One day as I was walking home from school in Fort Riley, Kans., I heard someone shout, “Hey, get out of my yard!”
I turned my head around quickly to see just where the voice was coming from.
“Pardon me?” I asked, not certain if I had heard him correctly.
“You heard me, get out of my yard!”
It was the first time in my life that anyone had directed a racial slur my way. My first thought was, “Who is this stranger, and why is he so bitter?” I was certain that he didn’t know who I was, or to be more specific whose son I was.
All I had to do was go home, repeat his words to my dad and his very life would have been in jeopardy. His yard would be the least of his worries. My dad is a Vietnam War veteran. Most people wake up hoping nothing bad happens. My dad wakes up wanting something to happen. The military made him a leaner, meaner, killing machine. Fighting was his business, and business was good.
While I continued to walk, I thought about how to best respond. Under the watchful eye of the homeowner, I made my last few strides away from his yard and gave him one final look. Had he only been patient, I would have been on my way without the harsh words. As I made my way home, I decided that I would not tell my dad. I would allow someone else to straighten him out.
Flash forward to the present. So much has changed, yet then not much has changed. I have lived long enough to be called the above-mentioned slur many times since that day. I have lived long enough to see young ignorant people refer to each other by the same term.
I no longer walk to and from school, now I drive. Driving has afforded me the opportunity to encounter road rage along the lines of that angry man in Kansas.
I have had the chance to play football for various coaches and work as an employee for numerous directors. I would like to say that every coach or co-worker I have had has been kind. I would like to say that, but I cannot. When I encountered the mean ones, my thoughts today are much like my thoughts when I was young – “Why are you so angry?”
I am reminded of the words during the opening scene of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Romeo is asked by his friend, “What saddens Romeo’s heart?”
“Not having that which makes the heart glad,” Romeo replied.
I have concluded that hurt (the noun) people hurt (the verb) people. I know that now, and so I pray for them. I didn’t know long ago that I was having mercy by not telling my dad.
I know that now.
The Bible states, “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” That’s my mindset, because much like that man from Kansas, many of them don’t know who my Heavenly Father is.