Ferguson Files: “I can tell you all aren’t from here.”

Today was supposed to be a day off.  It’s not actually a day off, but it’s a day that I have to set aside, now and then, in order to get things done for myself and my family that I don’t get done due to holding the line in Ferguson or being a legal observer.  So, after dropping my son off to help out a friend, I helped out his cousin by giving him a ride over to St. Louis as I was going there for my doctor appointment anyway.  I picked him back up, dropped him off, picked up my son, went to another doctor appointment and then, finally, sat down to have “dinner” at about 7:30pm.

After eating our sandwiches, we were hurrying back to the car when a man with a rake, a broom, and some sort of obvious neural disability (which is why I’m not using his name even though he gave it) finished up a stoop and stepped back to admire his handiwork.  We almost collided, and then he proceeded to introduce himself with the words, “Please ma’am, don’t be afraid, I was in a war and I’m not drunk or nothin’.”  I then introduced myself and held out my hand to him to shake, as did my son.  He was a bit taken aback but did the best he could to shake ours and then the title words came from him.  “I can tell you all aren’t from here.”  That phrase stunned me.  How could he tell?  In fact, I was so stunned I actually asked him how he could tell and therein lies the sorrow and horror of St. Louis, Ferguson and it’s other “cities in the county”.

Paraphrasing, except for the quoted parts, but it went something like this: He could tell because “we stopped when we all got tangled on the sidewalk”.  He could tell because we “looked him in the face” and talked to him as if he “were any other kinda man”.  He could tell because we “said our names and shook his hand”.  Due to his speech impairment, this took about 15 minutes and he kept apologizing for taking so long to answer, I kept telling him it was ok, I was listening.   He said I was sweet to pay attention to an old messed up veteran like him. He then said that that was another way he knew we weren’t from here, but he’d like to ask a favor if he could.  I began to explain that we weren’t from that neighborhood and so had no yard chores for him…he interrupted, apologized and “right hand to God” said he wasn’t asking for money or charity but he’d like to know if we could give him a ride to the closest Walgreens.  He was out there, doing chores for his 85yr old grandmother who needed adult diapers, and her check wasn’t due for another week.  I assured him it was not a problem and we’d take him where he needed to go.  My son, telling me he wanted to make sure the clerks paid attention to the gentleman, went into the store with him.  When they came out, he had two packages instead of one and my son explained that they were on sale, so he got him two packs.  Yeah, the kid paid for it, even though my check isn’t due for another week either.  We dropped him at his grandmothers house, my son thanked him for his service and the man nearly wept as he told my son how much that meant to him and explained he was in Gulf War I which is how he’d gotten “messed up by those chemical warfare shots and anthrax”.  My son was born that year.  Myself, I gave him a hug, told him to take care of himself and that I hoped I’d see him around.

As I got back into the car, I told myself aloud I was not going to cry, I’m not a crier much anyway, but the tears were pricking.  Why?  I don’t cry at sad movies, I don’t cry at sentimental things of any kind.  Heck, I don’t cry when most people would.  One thing I do cry for, more often now than I used to do, humanity and our country.

When did “We, the People”, become so calloused towards our fellow HUMANS?  How come it’s “telling” when someone here in St. Louis or even America at large gives a damn and treats other human beings as if they have a right to exist?  As if they have a right to a few minutes of our time, a bit of recognition, a small gesture of compassion?  I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

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