Thursday, September 1, 2016

When You Want to Hug a Stranger in Dunkin Donuts

In Dunkin Donuts there was a Young Woman sitting at the table next to me. She was talking on her cell phone and upset because another girl had deliberately shoved her out-of-the-way to get on the bus. And in an I-can’t-take-it-anymore moment she shoved the girl back and they got into a fight. Tearfully she said, “This happens all the time. I don’t want to fight. This is not who I am. I’m sorry. This doesn’t happen when I’m with you. I feel safer with you.”

It’s worth noting that this Young Woman did not look… hmm… how shall I say… homegrown. Her t-shirt and jeans were innocuous enough, but her close-cropped hair and beautiful, clear dark skin will always make her look foreign-born even if she, like me, was made in America. And in the xenophobic pendulum swing we’re in, not looking like you’re from around here seems to give people license to treat you as “other”; like shit; even by people who have themselves been historically mistreated and should know better. (Yes, Brothers and Sisters. I’m looking at you.)

I wasn’t trying to listen in on this woman’s conversation. Dunkin’ Donuts is my mobile office. When I’m sitting in there, laptop open, I’m on the grind. But when you don’t have phone booths these are the types of open-air conversations you’ll hear.

Trying hard not to cry, sniffing for all she was worth the Young Woman said to her friend, “I’m an adult and yet I still feel like a child. Why does this keep happening? I’m scared all the time.” Her raw distress broke my heart. The mama bear in me wanted to hug her but that would’ve been presumptuous, intrusive, and possibly a felony. I was grateful she at least had someone she could call and talk to.

And so, without a word, I pulled a pack of pocket tissues out of my bag and slipped them to her. Maybe in that very small gesture she’ll know that we’re not all like that; that shoving people who are not superficially like us out of the way is not who we are. Well, it is, but aren’t we supposed to be striving for better?  It’s our ability to embrace each other that makes us human.

So I’ll restock my handbag with pocket tissues. These days I seem to keep running out.

Leighann Lord is a veteran stand-up comedian seen on HBO, Comedy Central, and The View. She is the author of Dict Jokes and Real Women Do it Standing Up; and is a co-host of StarTalk Radio, with Neil de Grasse Tyson.  Follow her @LeighannLord | To join TeamLeighann: Text FunnyLady to 22828. Listen to the podcast of her blog on iTunes and Stitcher Radio.


Unknown said...

Very sweet story! Miss you,

joanna said...

I usually expect a humorous story and a giant belly laugh, but this story was heartfelt with a dash of "I can relate." Recently, while walking down Park Ave in the 80s, this women I saw coming towards me deliberately bumped into me. I didn't know if she felt privileged (I'm a brown person) or was just crae crae. I was "Like Whhhaaat?" in my head. I thought, "Why give her the satisfaction of getting a rise out of me." I did not even look back. I laughed if off,shook my head and kept on a stepping."

Leighann Lord said...

@Joanna, thank you for your comment and for sharing your story. Your response to a similar situation bespeaks a confidence and a sense of self the Young Woman in my story has yet to grow into. It's a challenge develop a thick skin that doesn't make you callous. Again, thanks for reading and sharing.

joanna said...


Leressa said...

I have lived in the East for 40 years, having moved to NYC from rural Ohio. I have experienced shoving, spitting, and a range of rude behavior. Responding in kind is not an option. It is dangerous, and can quickly become ...who you are. If you are better, and deserve better, you must act better.

Leighann Lord said...

Thanks for your comment, Leressa. That's maturity, wisdom, and patience talking there. :-) It can be hard to be our best selves every day, all day. Sadly, we all have off days.