I planned on writing a blog tonight about Pepsi and Kendall Jenner. Unbeknown to me, my path today would lead me to a situation completely bigger than corporate opportunism.
It is pretty amazing how I was put in the right place at the right time tonight.
To begin, I was not in the mood to go to my 6:00pm class. I contemplated going for about an hour and finally decided, as an act of adulting to be responsible and go.
Class comes and goes and ends up running about 10 minutes over. Normally, I wait for the shuttle back to the parking deck with a friend of mine; however she did not come today so I was alone. As I walked to the shuttle stop, in sort of a dramatic scene, I saw my shuttle driving by. Since I now had time to spare waiting for the next shuttle, I decided to head over to the convenience store.
As I make my way over to the store, a woman approaches me. She is African-American with a small frame, very timid and quiet. I couldn’t quite make out what she was asking me. And I mean this woman has to be a professional whisperer. After me asking her about 10 times to repeat herself, I realized that she asked me if I was heading into the store and if I had enough money to get her some milk.
I will admit her demeanor caused me to be skeptical at first, however I offered to help. So after convincing her to come into the store with me rather than just me buying the milk while she waits outside, I asked her name. And again after about 10 “I’m sorry, can you repeat that” I learned her name was Lynn.
Lynn and I spend roughly 15 minutes in the store. Lynn, still very hesitant, asks me if she can get chips too. I told her to get whatever else she may need. I noticed her picking up trail mix and granola bars, but being very mindful of the price. Mind you, her primary form of communication is whispering and hand gestures so she didn’t exactly say “Oh this is too expensive”. But she would pick up the item, make a face at the price, then put it back down.
At this point I am not sure if she has a speech disorder, or if she is just uncomfortable talking, but I have to be honest, it became quite frustrating to constantly ask her to repeat herself or tell her that I couldn’t understand what she was saying. As I noticed her noticing the prices, I assured her that it’s fine and even asked her if she wants bread and noodles as well. She declined and only wanted the milk, trail mix, and granola.
As we were at the cashier, she asked me what Church I went to.
I told her that I don’t go to Church and that I am not Christian. She was visibly confused and taken aback. So I asked her if that was a problem. She said no.
The transaction is complete, consisting of a 2 liter carton of milk, a couple bags of trail mix, almonds, and granola bars.
Once we get outside, she said that she could not accept all of the items. I again reassured her that this was for her and it’s not a problem at all. And then she asked me:
Who are you!?
I responded with a smile and said “I’m just Aaliyah”. She then says “And you aren’t Christian?” I replied “No, I am Muslim”. She says “Well where are you from!?” And I told her I lived in the area. After a few more minutes of trying to gain a little more information about Lynn, my shuttle came and I had to leave.
After we parted and I got on my shuttle I looked back. I noticed that Lynn had her head buried in her hands and she was crying. It dawned on me in that moment that her inquisition of who I am, was not about religion or anything; it was that she needed a justification. She needed an attachment to who I am that would explain and justify why I was helpful to her.
You see, my response of “I’m just Aaliyah” was not enough. Just being human does not seem to be enough for us to show compassion and kindness to one another. I think Lynn was searching for reasons for my humanity towards her. And that is the saddest yet profound part of this experience. In her mind, there had to be another explanation, be it religious affiliation or upbringing, behind my generosity.
I can only imagine how many humans walked past her in the front of the store.
I can only imagine how many humans did not have patience for her whispers.
I can only imagine how many humans did not offer to help her.
It is quite oxymoronic that collectively, we champion the phrase “You can always ask for help” yet how many people actually help when it is needed?
Being human should be enough.
There should not have to be an attachment for us to show humanity.