Friday, August 16, 2013

"You've got to be taught to hate and fear ..."

Coming home from work yesterday, I saw a man on a bike. It was an old bike. His clothes were old and worn-out. His dirty skin was slick with sweat and he was pedaling slowly. He was dog tired.

He'd ingeniously figured out a way to strap a rake to his bike so that he would steer and pedal without it getting in the way. On the back of the bike, on a flat metal shelf and secured with bungees, was a box of garbage bags. He pedaled away in the sun and I saw him turn up the next suburban driveway, put down his kickstand and walk to the door. He knocked and then stepped back, off of the porch to await an answer.

The light changed to green and I had to drive away.

Of course, I imagine he was going door-to-door asking to do yard clean-up for people. This is a good thing. Here is a guy willing to work, trying to either increase his income or to make some kind of a living for himself in hard economic times. I admire him.

Then, I thought about the responses he was likely to get. How many people would slam the door in the face of an unkempt stranger? How few would be willing to let him into their yard to do a few hours' work? Would I let him  in to work on my yard...

...or would I fear the stranger, as we have all been taught to do?

It's really a sad thing about the world. Maybe it is a necessity. Maybe the world has just become to unpredictable -- too unsafe. (I think of Oscar Hammerstein's masterful lines, from his ironic lyric to "You've Got To Be Carefully Taught," "You've got to be taught to hate and fear..." His song, of course was more about racism than general hate, but the idea is similar.)

But maybe it is unwise to let a stranger into your yard. It's just too bad that it is. history tells us that there were times, in places where homes were few and far between, in which travelers would be taken in for the night, if only to sleep in the barn; times in which it was considered rude or cruel not to take in a traveler in need...

Not today. No, I probably would not have let the guy work on my house. Not him; not anyone with whom I am unfamiliar; for no other reason than that: he is a stranger and, in our times, we fear strangers.

There's something deeply sad about that, but if the odds are a billion to one that a stranger is going to hurt my kids...I don't like the odds. Still, I feel as if I need forgiveness for thinking this way.

Anyway, I hope some other home-owners are more reckless than I. I hope the guy makes some cash, because he deserves it for being industrious and hard-working. And for not just asking for handouts. As long as he isn't a rapist.

There I go again.

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