Most Tuesday mornings will find me in a booth at Lisciandro's having breakfast with my friend Willie. In the next booth down, Marilyn and Darlene usually are having their breakfast, sometimes joined by Roy. A couple men whose names I've not yet mastered will be in the booth closer to the door, while a couple regulars will be seated at the counter in between smoke breaks. Patty is busy cooking orders, serving coffee, and chit-chatting with the customers and her boss John. Willie and I have been doing this for a few years now, one of the benefits of retirement being that we can meet at 7:30 instead of the 6:30 time slot we started while we were working.
Yesterday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, remembering the great non-violent civil rights leader slain in the 60's, along with the Kennedy brothers. Willie is black, and he is my friend. I've learned a lot as we've sat together over the years, particularly about race, racism, and perception. We are both children of the 60's, but his experiences and mine were vastly different, and this difference did much to shape our perceptions of our world. I remember the time he told me of an experience once when he went into an upscale department store shopping for something for his wife. Immediately, he was surrounded by clerks asking if they could help him. His read of that situation as a black man was that they saw him as a potential thief. I commented that had I seen that, I would have wondered why he was getting all the service instead of I. Perception. Which one of us saw that situation correctly? He was evaluating it according to his experience, and I according to mine.
We've talked often about these perceptions, and how he had to learn to navigate two worlds; his own black community, but also the white community, whereas I only had one world to learn. We frequently talk of family values, the black experience, and even politics. We don't always see eye to eye, but we respect each other and listen as carefully as we can. I wish more people had the opportunity we have to talk and listen. Maybe if more people turned down the rhetoric and truly listened, we could make more progress in race relations. I expect Willie and I will always see some things quite differently, and if we were to talk political and social policy, we would probably approach things from quite different angles. But we would approach, and that's what matters. It certainly helps that we both start from our faith in Christ which gives us common ground. I am grateful tonight for a friend like Willie who stretches me. I hope I do the same for him. I am grateful for the common ground we share in Christ. We begin and end our times in prayer for each other, our families, our church, our nation, and our world: "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."