Journal Entry--February 12, 2002
by E. Amado Williams
Last Friday morning, I boarded the train for my usual commute to work only to find no immediate vacant seat. I maneuvered past passengers standing stock-still with stone expressions and deep thoughts. To my wandering eyes, there was an empty seat towards the middle of the car. I approached the free seat and sat down next to an older, burly, American Black man who looked like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders, Atlas carrying the ills of society’s pandemonium. The years on his face added to the aggravated look he presented. He watched me with squinted eyes and a cold heart.
“Good day, sir,” I said to address him out of respect.
The man fixed a frown on his face and then shifted in his seat to face me. There was fire in his eyes and anger in his voice long before he parted his lips to respond to my greeting.
“What’s so good about today?” he barked at me. “There is so much crime in the streets and don’t get me started talking about unemployment. Many people don’t have homes to shield them from the elements or pillows on which to lay their heads. Families are at war with each other. Brothers are against brothers. Sisters are against sisters. Sons are against their fathers and mothers. Daughters are against their fathers and mothers. Children are having children.
“And have you noticed that no one respects his or her elders these days? They talk nasty talk in our presence and push us out of their way just so that they can rush off to nowhere. What happened to the days when young people said ‘Yes, sir’ or ‘Yes, mam’? Old folk are not doormats, you know. We’re people, too.
“Whatever happened to the community and the complete family? Whatever happened to the church, the pillar of the Black community? Why is it that the church is more into politics than into helping bring people to God? What’s so good about today?”
There had to be at least five generations of woe that this man carried with him, weighing heavily on his mind. He had lived during a time when grief was not something that graced doorsteps. Sure, times were hard and people made ends meet, but people seemed happier. With what little people had, they had an abundance of hope and optimism. The word of the day, everyday, was not materialism. It was community. The tribe that helped to raise a child in his time no longer existed in his eyesight. Though there were at least two generations between the older man and me, we lived in the same world today; the mentality had changed, and not in a positive, forward-thinking direction. I turned to the man, looked him in his eyes, and poised myself to respond to his commentary in a respectful fashion.
“Sir, there is indeed way too much crime in the streets and unemployment is out of control, yes. Ethics of today’s men and women are not as strong as they probably were in your younger days. My grandfather would always tell me about how people worked to take care of their families. Unlike today, the family was not an option; the family was a priority.
“Families are at war with each other now because when love knocks on their doors to enter they refuse to answer. Very few realize that it is so easy to say ‘I love you’ and mean it. Society today is scared that bearing one’s heart will make a person weak. It would stop pitting brother and against brother, sister against sister, children against parents, and so on.
“I was fortunate enough to have been touched by both sets of my grandparents and great grandparents. Whenever my siblings and I entered their homes, they told us to take off our muddied boots of disrespect and impropriety. They did not allow us to track mess across their floors. My parents made it clear as to who the parents were and who the children were in their home. They did not torture us, but they corrected our mistakes. To this day, I am grateful for the spankings I got. It didn’t kill me. It made me a stronger and more respectful man. Thank God for home training.
“The community has changed since your days of youth, I’m sure. I’m still relatively young, but I have neighbors who became family because of their caring. Granted my parents were not always around to watch me, there were others in the neighborhood that helped in that area, though it was not their sole responsibility. I am proud to call some of those neighbors Aunt Lorraine, Uncle Willie, Aunt Vera, Uncle Tyrone, Aunt Vivian, and Uncle Joe. The list goes on.
“I firmly believe the church is still the pillar of the community. However, the hardest working person in the church is the devil. You may hear politics and other malarkey from the pulpit, the choir stand, the deacon board, and other missions in the church, but the Bible does say ‘Where two or more are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst.’ The church and especially God have never turned on the community. The community has to stop looking in the wrong direction for guidance.
“What’s so good about today, you ask? Well, sir, I’m here. Thanks to God waking me up this morning, I’m on this side of the green grass. I am not in any pain. I am not suffering from any disease. I have my family who loves me and whom I love. I have a reason for living, and any day I put one foot in front of the other and have my right frame of mind is a good day. Everyday is a good day.”
The look of hopelessness that initially displayed on the older man’s face appeared to disappear. The despair that showed in his eyes, replaced with faith. The ice sickle that the devil used to pierce his heart melted and he smiled. He had lost at least ten years off his facial expression. I had unknowingly gained ten years of maturing just by having conversation.
The following Monday morning when I boarded the morning train, I noticed the usual congestion. It was hard just getting through the door. When I did manage to enter before the doors closed, I got the welcome of bodies packed tight, colognes, perfumes, breakfast flavors, past odors, angry language, and various facial expressions. I pushed my way in and as I looked through the crowd, I saw an empty seat. Intending to take advantage of sitting back to relax for the rest of my commute, I forged my way forward.
Once I reached my destination, I noticed the older man sitting in the window seat. He waved for me to have a seat. After I down, he turned to me, extended his hand, and gave me a firm handshake.
“Today is a good day, isn’t it, young man?” he greeted me.
“Everyday is a good day, sir.”