“You are trying too hard.” My African American friend said this for my benefit. His eyes conveyed his love me as he spoke the words.
“What do you mean?” I asked. I meant the question. I was surprised by his words and wanted to hear what he thought.
“You don’t need to serve on all of these committees in this community,” he answered. “You don’t have to go to all of these racial meetings and planning sessions and events,” he continued.
Admittedly, I was puzzled. I sat there in Wendy’s and took a bite of my chicken sandwich.
“You can if you want to. Sometimes some good things can come of it. But to be truthful, I think you are trying too hard. I’m trying to say that you don’t have to do these committee things. There is an easier way.”
“Ok,” I said. “What is the easier way?”
Finding the Easier Way
“Let me ask you a question,” he responded. “Your church offices were recently moved into a neighborhood that is mostly Black, right?”
“Right,” I nodded.
“And your office is situated in a little shopping center next door to some Black business owners, right?”
“Yeah,”I said. “So?”
“So, how long would it take you to walk from your office to get to one of these businesses next door to you?”
I paused. I’m sure that I stopped chewing too. I could see that a sense of conviction was about to say hello to me. I sat back in the chair. Put the sandwich down and shook my head with a smiling realization. He repeated his good question. He was smiling now too and gentle.
“How long does it take you to walk from your office to one of these businesses next door to you?”
“About three seconds,” I answered.
“That’s what I’m getting at,” he said. “You are trying too hard. Speeding around at all of these meetings. Instead, why don’t you do the easy thing? Walk the three seconds, peek your head in the door and just say, ‘hello.'” “If no one says ‘hello’ back, try it again next week. If they say ‘hello’ back, just talk like a human being about human stuff.”
Walking the Three Seconds
I sat there thinking about what he said. I admitted out loud what I was feeling inside.
“Walking the three seconds seems harder. Why is that?” I asked.
He didn’t answer. He didn’t need to. We both lingered with the thought and ate a couple of french fries.
Looking back on that conversation, I realize that I’ve been attending, leading and planning meetings and events for a year and a half, now. There have been wonderful moments. But, I’m sad to say that it took me a month after my friend’s advice, before I attempted the easy thing. Yesterday, finally, I walked the three seconds. I said “hello.” A Black man said, “hello” back to me. He paused and so did I. I don’t know how, but we ended up talking about the crazy Saint Louis weather and the storms predicted for that night. Somehow we even got to talking about how the bones in the body sometimes predict the weather better than the news and we laughed. Then, after a bit, we both paused, and said, something like “have a good one” to each other. Then, I walked the three seconds back to my office. On Monday, I’m thinking maybe I’ll try that again. After all, my next committee meeting isn’t for another couple of weeks.