The errand I tried to complete this afternoon (resulting in my hearing the most outrageous comedy act I have encountered since Red Foxx and Buddy Hackett were in their vulgar primes) failed, so I had to return to my pharmacy to get four refills of various drugs. As I was getting out of the car, I heard a loud voice shouting “God DAMN you!” and realized that the expletive came from behind the mask of large African-American man of indeterminate age. I had to ask, “Was that directed at me?”
He immediately shook his head vigorously and walked over to me, saying, “No no! I’m so sorry, I was yelling at myself! I’m so damn mad—I locked myself out of my car!”
He continued, “Hey, maybe you’re my guardian angel.” He started handing me his IDs and wallet, and showed me the pills he had just received from the same pharmacy where I was headed. The man was sweating hard. “I’m not some gangster or anything, I swear—I’m just hot, and tired, and I have prostate cancer…” I interrupted him.
“Just tell me how I can help. Do you need a ride home?”
“No man,” he said. “I need $32 so I can get home. I gotta lie down.Here…” and he started handing me his IDs again, with his phone number and address. I happened to have more cash on hand than usual, and handed him the $32.
“Don’t worry about paying me back, just pass it along some day, ” I said. “Get home and take care of yourself.” I also told him that my father had prostate cancer for the last 30 years of his life, and died in his sleep at 89.
“Thanks for that too, man,” he said. The man sounded like he was smiling—damn masks! It also seemed like we would have shaken hands in more normal times. As I left, he was calling a cab.
I can honestly say that the fact that he was African American didn’t make me more inclined to give him the money–“Take THAT, Black Lives Matter!”—or play any part in my thinking at all. I did find it sad that he felt that he had to reassure me that he wasn’t a “gangster” or a street hustler. This was a straight Golden Rule situation. I’ve been in his predicament. I’ve been helped by strangers, several times. My reaction was automatic, and, for an ethicist, mandatory. And if it was a scam? It doesn’t matter. You’ve got to trust people, or society doesn’t work, and life feels nasty, brutish and lonely.
I also don’t think my response was unusual, whether the two human beings involved were black, white, male, female, young, old, or any combination thereof.
At least, I plan on believing that, all evidence to the contrary. Human beings matter. All of them. All the time.