It’s twenty minutes past bedtime and Samuel needs milk. I rush off to Kroger, overly mindful that it could be my last trip there. I am always looking to commemorate transitional moments. I try not to do anything without finding a greater significance.
I walk out with gallon in hand and a man in the floral section calls me over, confused and slightly pushy, “Hey, you know me don’t you?” He’s clearly cognitively impaired in some way, permanently or not I cannot tell. His eyes are looking in opposite directions and he’s not speaking clearly. He touches my arm.
“No sir, I don’t,” I say nicely, in the teacher voice I’ve clearly come at from both sides, and push his hand gently off me, “but can I help you?”
“Yes, yes, I do. I do need help. I had to move here because gangs were attacking me in Hamilton and Cincinnati. Whole gangs of boys with knives and guns!” he says.
“Oh, that’s really too bad. I’m very sorry about that,” I respond, looking concerned. “What can I do to help?”
“Take this paper, I’ve written on it in sonic purple ink,” he says. “When you open it, you’ll see the secret message you need to help me.”
“Secret message?” I inquire.
“Yes! Read it, please. And you can keep the pen. Write back to me with it on that paper and I’ll see,” he cries, excitedly. “It’s a sonic purple pen, and I’ve tried it. It works. It writes really well!” (He has excellent grammar.)
“Oh, thank you sir, I will,” I tell him earnestly. He rushes away into the parking lot and I trail behind, towards my car, deliberately slow and with caution. It’s still daylight. He begins to tell a group of young men to be careful walking in the middle of the parking lot. They could get hit by a car. It happened to him 17 years ago, in a foreign country. They laugh and karate kick phantoms in the air.
When I get in my car, I open the paper. On it, it says, “Pretty ladies needed,” and then a phone number, over and over again, for four pages, each page topped with a more fervent and serious appeal for the help of “pretty ladies.”
On my way home, I remember an evening in Jerusalem, a summer nine years ago. My roommate and I are headed out of the Old City on a Saturday night, not that far from a police station. A man steps out of the Gates and says, in Hebrew, “Hey you know me don’t you?” I know we don’t know him. He seems possibly inebriated, and is not speaking clearly.
My roommate doesn’t know Hebrew as well as me. She says, “What?” I say, “No.” He steps forward, reaches out. Within an instant, the guy is flat on his back behind me.
Arriving home, my roommate calls out to our other roommate, a soldier home on leave, “Beruriah threw this guy who tried to touch her!”
He responds, “I’m not surprised. I wouldn’t mess with her.”
Such privilege we have here, to have instincts programmed for compassion, not fear.