Are Your Perceptions Reality?
“The past has no power to stop you from being present now. Only your grievance about the past can do that. What is grievance? The baggage of old thought and emotion.”
The baggage of old thought and emotion holds the power to change not only our perception, but our entire lives. It can taint our view of the world, the people we encounter, and how we view ourselves. This summer, a random encounter with a stranger led to a profound exchange of perception based emotions.
Earlier this year, I started a treatment program to correct a 4mm leg length discrepancy that was causing me a lot of grief during distance runs. The hardest part of the treatment was that I had to stop running for a few months. Thankfully, I was given the ok to walk – and walk I did. On weekends I met up with a group of friends and we met at various locations in San Diego for walks ranging from eight to twelve miles.
One of our meet-ups was in a gorgeous spot along the coast. In order to get a decent parking spot, you have to get there before the surfers and divers. I found a spot and went into auto-pilot which included getting my water bottle, sunglasses, phone, and the last step of pointing my key fob towards my car and sticking the fob in my zippered back pocket. A mans voice broke into my auto-pilot zone but all I heard were the words “steal your car”. As I looked around, I saw the profile of a man sitting in his car with the window rolled down. It was nothing out of the ordinary for that area or time of day, and I had no idea if that was the same person I heard a moment earlier. I called one of the friends I was meeting to see where she had parked so I could head over. As I hung up from the call, the man that was in the car looked back towards me as he was passing by and said “yeah, that’s right, see the black man and you think he’s gonna steal your car”.
Words cannot possibly describe how pissed I was by his comment. Not upset, not angry, just downright pissed. Seriously? I hadn’t even seen this man when I locked my car – something that is as automatic to me as breathing. I don’t care where I am, or who is or isn’t around – I always lock my car. Always. The words that shot of of my mouth were “You’ve got to be kidding me? I don’t know where that’s coming from but you’ve got to let that go sweetheart.” He raised his hand up as if to say “whatever” as he walked away. I never call anyone sweetheart, so I’m not sure where that came from, all I knew was that the longer I stood there, the more pissed I got. All I could think of was “how dare he?” I saw one of my friends in the distance and walked towards her. I described what happened as we were waiting for the others to show up. As I looked up, I saw the man walking towards his car with a coffee cup in hand.
I couldn’t help myself, I ran over towards him saying “excuse me” in a voice loud enough to make him turn around. As he saw me walking towards him, he crossed to the other side of the street and put his hand up as if to stop me. Whatever button in me he had pushed was fully activated and not about to turn off. I continued walking after him and he just looked at me and said no, still with a hand up. I yelled out – “you can’t say something like that and just walk away” and continued walking towards him spewing whatever words were flying out of my mouth unfiltered. “Sir, you don’t know anything about me. You can’t accuse me of something like that and just walk away. I never even saw you. I always lock my car. It wasn’t about you.” I am now visibly shaken and filled with emotion that I can no longer control. I feel tears streaming down my face. I realize that what I am feeling is pain. His and mine.
I walk in front of him and start in again. This time he stops. I look at him and say, softer now, “I always lock my car when I leave it – always”. I don’t know why, but I yanked off my sunglasses and crying, said “look at me, I’m Mexican. I grew up just south of Detroit in a neighborhood that people didn’t want to come in to. I grew up feeling less than because of how some people saw me. It took me a long time to let that go. I’m not like those people.”
We stood in the middle of the street looking at each other. He said “Now look what I’ve done, I’m sorry, I’ve made you cry.” I answered with “please don’t say things like that to people, it’s really hurtful. You don’t know me. I was just here to meet some friends this morning.” I held out my hand to him and said “I don’t have any hard feelings, please just think about what you’re saying to people. You can really hurt people. Please have a good day”. With that, he took my hand, we shook and walked away from each other back onto our own path.
I’ve thought a lot about that man since our encounter. I always wonder if our paths will ever cross again. I wonder what experiences he must have endured to feel and think as he does. Based on my own experiences, I can guess. He appeared to be a little older than me, maybe mid-fifties which meant that he would have grown up in an era that was filled with blatant prejudice. It still exists, but I’d like to think we’ve made some progress over the years. Unfortunately, it leaves deep and ugly scars. I know that our meeting touched me in ways I can’t quite begin to explain. I felt his pain and hope that in time he finds peace as I have.
I would really love to hear your thoughts on this. What chance encounters have touched you?