This post was contributed by Mary Grace Bertulfo as part of our Voices Amplified series.
The Day after the 2016 Election
Sometimes, one act of hatred can trigger a chain reaction of love. This chain reaction started with my dear friend Haj. We were gathered with other women, grieving the election results at a local diner. Haj told me that morning her husband, who is a white American, went to his usual 7-11. The clerk behind the counter, who was a young black man, had his head down. He was upset because while walking to work that morning, a stranger, a white man, had spit at him. Another time, a customer rushed behind the counter and tried to fight him. Haj’s husband tried to comfort him.
The news saddened me deeply. I couldn’t shake the feeling of how unfairly the young black man was being treated by complete strangers – especially after the divisiveness of this election. The violence and mean-spiritedness roused me to action. If one stranger could treat him horribly, maybe another stranger’s act of kindness might counter it.
So I went to the grocery and bought the most beautiful flowers I could afford. I found out where he worked and went to deliver them. When he and the cashier saw the flowers, they looked, at first wary, then puzzled. But then, they seemed to realize the flowers were for him. Our conversation went like this:
“You don’t know me and I don’t know you. But I heard from my friend that you had a rough day. I thought if one stranger was horrible, maybe another could be kind. I wanted you to know, not all strangers are horrible.” At this point, unexpectedly, I choked up. He embraced me and said many thank yous. He told me, “You don’t know how much this means to me,” and started crying.
He accepted the flowers, hugging me, and said, “I love you as a human being.”
His words stunned me. I felt breathless. I hugged him back and said, “I love you, too.”
The whole store, a cluster of us Asian, African, and European Americans openly wept and comforted one another. We learned each other’s names. We spoke words of encouragement. Stories of us needing and helping one another poured out.
The young man pointed to the cashier, a white woman. “I need you.” He pointed to a black woman and child, “I need you.” He pointed to me, a Filipina American. “I need you. We all need each other.”
The cashier behind the counter waved at our impromptu group. “This is who we are. This. Right here. They can’t change that. No election can change that.”
Wisdom between strangers. Spontaneous hope. Spontaneous love.
The thing is I went to 7-11 to comfort this brave young man. Instead, he comforted me. He told me with everything he’s been through he’s learning how to be strong. He, who had been spat at and attacked, was checking HIS OWN assumptions about white men. “It’s how we don’t hate.”
To overcome the hatred, it took a chain of American loving-kindness: My Palestinian friend. Her white husband. The young black man. White and black Americans at the store. Me, a Filipina.
As I write this I think about my own assumptions. What leads me to cultivate anger, anger that can dangerously lead to hatred? What leads us all to love? I don’t have the answers. Just flowers, my voice, and open eyes. Maybe for now that’s a good start.
May we – the spitters and the walkers – all have peace, safety, and joy. May we fight acts of hatred with foolhardy, unabashed acts of love.
Mary Grace Bertulfo has written for children’s education, television, and conservation magazines in venues such as Pearson Education Asia, CBS, and Sierra. Her fiction and essays are published in various anthologies and her poem “Bridges” launched Story Studio’s Voices Amplified series. She is the daughter of an immigrant family that has served the U.S. Navy, Air Force, and Veteran’s Administration. She is currently at work on a novel about Ferdinand Magellan’s invasion of the Philippines as seen through the eyes of Liso, a sixteenth-century woman shaman.