I made my way back to the hotel and, up in my room, crawled slowly, numbly into bed with a newspaper I’d picked up weeks before at the Catholic Worker house in L.A. One article was about Ben Salmon, an American CO who’d been imprisoned, and for all intents and purposes tortured, during WWI. In a 1917 letter to his local draft board, Salmon had written:
“The army of Peace.”… I couldn’t stop thinking of that black guy who’d followed me. Not that I wanted to stupidly put myself in harm’s way, but now I sort of wished I’d been able to turn around and say, Can I help you, my friend? Now I wished I could have said, I’m just out for a walk, do you want to walk with me? If I’d been more evolved, maybe I could have, but I’d been afraid of someone who was wandering around on a Sunday night so hungry for whatever he was hungry for.
I hadn’t been afraid of his blackness; I’d been afraid of his insistence, his desperation, his loneliness. I was lonely, too, and maybe it’s only because we know how desperate our own loneliness makes us that we’re afraid of another’s. We’re hard on each other in this world; we’re afraid of each other and the fear makes us hard and cruel and wary.
Now I sort of wished we could have sat down together, this stranger and me.
I turned off the light and, as the searchlight beamed through the chintzy drapes, thought of Psalm 39:
Do not be deaf to my tears.
In your house I am a passing guest,
a pilgrim, like all my fathers.
Look away that I may breathe again
before I depart to be no more.
Heather Kingis a Catholic convert, sober alcoholic, and writer whose most recent book is STRIPPED: Cancer, Culture and The Cloud of Unknowing. She speaks nationwide and blogs at Heather King: Mystery, Smarts, Laughs. For more, see her new About page.