My partner Barbara and I spent three hours in a Minnesota License Bureau reception room waiting our turn to make an address change on our driver’s licenses. Someone once said, “The driver’s license bureau is the great leveler in our society.”
We saw people from all the colors of the rainbow. Where did I ever see that in Minnesota? Other than the local food shelf where I help out once a week, I don’t see rainbow people at the stores I shop in, or the concerts and plays I go to.
There were babies and kids – quiet, crying, shouting and running around followed by scrambling parents. There were teenagers, singles, young couples, middle aged, elderly, grandparents, and single people. A tossed salad had jumped out of the bowl and came to life. All of a sudden, this drab and dull experience was turning into to an unintended civics lesson.
Everyone had to take a ticket with a number on it. You wait your turn. Privilege did not count. Professions did not count. The cars we drive, the houses we live in, the money in our wallets did not count. How insanely democratic can one get? In three hours we were stripped down to our basic humanity. We were all equal and valued in God’s eyes. All of us wanted a piece of paper with our picture on it saying it was OK to drive a vehicle in Minnesota.
To pass time, I talked with a person sitting next to me about how this intolerable waiting can be used more creatively. We thought of organizing games for all ages of people like musical chairs, hide and seek, and charades. We thought of pairing people into small groups to talk about our lives.
Then I worried the computers would crash when our numbers were called. Do you mean I have to go through this infernal waiting exercise again? YES. We thought of the state of Minnesota hiring a hypnotist to place us in a more relaxed state of mind.
Then I got into the crazy mindset that I was more deserving than other people. I was the one who should go first to stop this infernal waiting for my number to be called. I looked into the faces of strangers and suddenly I saw them as new neighbors.
Why on earth did I think I was better than other people? All the people in the waiting room were just like me holding love and hate, compassion and fear, struggles and hopes in their lives. God was teaching me about my neighbors. It was the last place I expected to be taught - in the MN Driver’s License Bureau. I didn’t have to go to church to learn who my neighbors are.
By Rev. Lawrence Richardson
(Context: During the last 3 months of her life, I was at her bedside asking her every question about life that I could think up, and she spoke freely as she had the energy and strength, and as I wrote feverishly in my spiral bound notebook.)
Me: What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned?
Granny: Greatest? Every lesson I’ve learned is great.
Me: Ok, what are some of the greatest lessons you’ve learned?
Granny: I like that question better. (She smirks) Let me tell you a story. You remember Miss Henderson from church?
Me: Yes, ma’am.
Granny: Miss Henderson couldn’t stand me. I don’t know if she hated me, but she couldn’t stand me.
Me: What? That makes no sense! You were always working together; it didn’t seem like she didn’t like you. What did you do?
Granny: About 40 years ago, I walked up to the sanctuary, and on my way up, there was all this talk in the fellowship hall about this trouble maker named Miss Henderson. People were saying some awful stuff about what this woman had done. Well anyway, I went into the sanctuary because I forgot my Bible up there and there was a woman coming through the door as I opened it. I blurted out, “WHO IS THIS MISS HENDERSON? She has everyone so upset and I need to know who this troublemaker is? Do you know Miss Henderson?” The woman’s face fell, and in the sweetest, quietest voice you can imagine, the woman said, “I am Miss Henderson.”
Me: NO!! Oh my God, Granny!
Granny: I know. I felt terrible. And she has never spoken more than a few words to me since then. I tried talking to her personally over the years, but she sees me coming and heads the other direction.
Me: I would have never known that. I assumed that you two were friends.
Granny: That’s good in a way because our personal issues shouldn’t have spilled over onto the community or our ability to work together for God.
Me: What did all this teach you?
Granny: It taught me several things, namely, never gossip. Never speak to someone about someone else unless you know who you’re speaking to and if you know for a fact that what you're speaking is truth. And even then, you don’t know who they might speak to about what you’ve shared with them; so never gossip. Only speak about someone what you'd be comfortable saying in their presence. I never apologized to Miss Henderson because I didn’t think I was wrong for just asking a question. But I realize now that I could’ve simply said, “I’m sorry for misjudging you and jumping to conclusions about you because of hearsay.” You see, people are always suspicious of new folks when they try to enter a community, and instead of getting to know her, people made stuff up about her. Was some of what they said versions of the truth? I don’t know, maybe, maybe not. But we should get to know people's truth and discern their spirit before we speak about them.
Me: Do you think she would’ve accepted your apology?
Granny: It doesn’t matter if she would’ve accepted it or not. God gives grace to all, whether we accept it or not, and we should be the same way.