In the movie Dances with Wolves, Kevin Costner made peace with Sioux warriors by riding alone into their camp to return an injured Indian girl. A simple act of faith which overcame all barriers.
With our nation divided along seemingly irreconcilably lines, unable to communicate in any language, I am reminded of a personal encounter not unlike Costner’s.
It was the day after Katrina hit New Orleans. Some 250,000 refugees were arriving at the Astrodome in Houston by bus. I’d volunteered and was walking to my car at dusk when I came upon an elderly African American woman just disembarked. Her cane clicked against the concrete as she hobbled past the reception area into the parking lot. Without breaking stride she asked, “Can you direct me to grocery store? I’m out of cigarettes.”
Ahead the Loop 610 traffic roared. On either side a maze of office towers loomed. This was not like the neighborhood she’d left. You couldn’t walk to a grocery.
We stood in the twilight. She recounted her escape through the roof of her French Quarter home and a hellish night in the Superdrum.
It was then I spotted a uniformed man hectoring a group of black youngsters. From a distance I mistook him for a policeman. We approached and I asked if he knew where I could buy cigarettes for my companion. His eyes cut sharply to me. The logo on his shirt flashed into view—-New Black Panthers.
We stood toe to toe, a middle aged white man with an elderly black refugee now holding my arm, and a black activist. We didn’t speak the same language on any level. His audience stood by in silence awaiting his reaction.
His expression softened. He gave me a nod and took her hand. His young charges began calculating the fastest route to a convenience store. I offered to pay. They refused. One was dispatched to buy a pack.
In the darkness I watched as they escorted my new friend into the building. What must she think of their philosophy?
When the uniformed Panther turned and gave me a nod I realized that, for a moment at least, there were no agendas. She’d bridged all gaps.
Like Dances With Wolves, there are times when the human spirit overcomes irreconcilable differences. If only we could remember.
Malcolm D. Gibson
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