Several years ago I was driving home for Christmas from grad school. It was only about a 4.5 hour drive, but there was something terribly wrong with my car. About and hour and half into the drive smoke was billowing from underneath the hood of my car and I noted, with sickening fear, that the hot/cold dial was in the red on hot. It was after 7pm in the backwoods of the south and there were no main exits crowded with bustling civilization. But, I had no choice; I had to stop the car and get help. I pulled off to an exit with a gas station and hesitantly pulled in.
Why was I hesitant? Nervous? Scared, even? I stuck out like a sore thumb. I was not in my comfort zone; I was in an environment that has historically been hostile to people who look like me. I quickly learned that no auto shops were open, no car rental places were available and there were no hotels to put me up for the night. I was on the verge of crying as I sat in my smoking car on a cold, now rainy, dark evening in the middle of out-of-my-comfort-zone nowhere. Desperation pulled me out to look under the hood of the car, even though I was fully aware of how useless I would remain, standing there trying to decipher what I could possible do to make my car better again.
And then I saw him walking towards me. He was lanky, White and looked like he would probably assault me with the n-word. I started praying really hard and tried to not look nervous. I can't remember his name, but what I can remember is how nice he was to me. Yes, the man I had just colored with assumptions. He asked me if everything was okay and offered to look under the hood. It just so happened that his cousin was in the store and was a mechanic and would be happy to take a look as well. So he went in and came back out with four other guys who all looked just the same. The fear returned and I started thinking about all the bad things that can happen to a Black girl all by herself in foreign territory on a cold, dark night in the middle of nowhere. And then I was assaulted.
I was assaulted with kindness and concern. One offered to go inside and get me some coffee; another suggested I wait inside the car with the heat on because it was cold outside; the mechanic determined what was wrong and told me to sit tight while he went to the auto parts store to get the right part to fix it; yet another offered to stay with me until the rest came back. These guys made small talk while they fixed my car and insisted that I not bother with my money because they weren't going to take it; they wished me a Merry Christmas and sent me on my way.
Every year I remember this moment in my life. A moment where everything could have gone wrong. Instead, I saw God's beauty in humanity. Every day we focus on all that separates us; all that makes us different. But, there are so many ways that we are all alike; so many things that unite us. Every year I am reminded that a world generosity and goodness is possible - even more so if we could stop focusing on the things that divide and celebrate the things that unite. Better yet, if we could celebrate the differences and the similarities that unite. I see a miracle in that. I remember it every year. And I am thankful for those wonderful men who are so different from me. I wish you all a Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Happy Kwanza and Happy New Year!