That changed yesterday and my reaction disappointed me. Here's what happened:
My parents are in town and we were walking down Michigan Avenue after buying tickets to Wicked. As we were walking towards Wacker Drive, we saw a street performer who had finished his days work and was walking back, coming up the street. My mom, dressed in a sari, asked me discreetly why we were seeing a completely silver man coming up the street. As I quietly explained, and just as this man was crossing us, he looked at us and said pretty loudly:
The people behind us just laughed, and we just kept walking on.
I'm not completely sure if my Dad or mom heard (or understood because of his accent) what he said. As for me, it took me a couple of seconds to regain my composure. There are a number of ways to look at this. Two valid (unconventional) reactions would be:
- laugh: a dude in silver mocking your religious beliefs in the middle of the street is kinda funny...yeah, I'm weird that way.
- feel pity/compassion: the man was a street performer, probably poor, possibly poorly educated, and had a hard life; if religion was a source of strength and evangelism part of the brief, his actions are understandable.
- anger: that my parents, who were visiting this city, had to go through this. what if they'd understood; what if I hadn't been around; what if they'd just been visiting for the first time. How scared would anyone feel?
- deeply disappointed: I felt somewhat illogically that this was actually a slight on a city that has been so good to me, and that I'm so fond of.
- suddenly, briefly scared: its a little frightening when someone can say that to you in the middle of the street and think that its ok to do so, and that there are no consequences to it.
This meant I spent sometime last night thinking about topics that I enjoy discussing and struggling with, but hadn't for a while: the point of religion, free speech and the sometimes painful, though understandable, things we humans believe and the equally painful/understandable ways in which we choose to act.
So, what are my take-aways on the incident?
- I do believe what the person in the street did is wrong. Though I believe very strongly in free speech and the need to advocate your viewpoint in the world, I believe that being civil to your fellow humans always trumps that.
- I do believe that my immediate reaction is excusable because I'm human and feeling scared, angry, and vulnerable is part of the human condition. However, I have to forgive that person because the words that hurt me came from a source much deeper, and much more complex, than just one person.