Do the Right Thing
Do the Right Thing
How many times a year do I become frustrated with people, businesses, politicians, my own employer, and sometimes, even close friends and family, and say, "Jeez! Why can't (he/she/they) just do the right thing?" This particular year challenges my patience most every day. I've always attempted to do the right thing even though my words and actions sometimes fall short of my original intent. All the downtime of 2020 allows deep reflection, and one day I found myself making a list of all the times I "did the right thing" and all the times I didn't. Thoughts are funny creatures; one never knows when some random memory will come flying into the present moment. Or why? "Whoa! Why did this thought resurface after all these years?" I thought to myself. I remembered taking my nephew Daniel to a Dallas Maverick basketball game when the new American Airlines Center first opened in the Fall of 2001. Not wanting to miss a second seeing Dirk Nowitzki's moves, Daniel stayed in the stands with his uncle while I went down to the concession stand to get him a cookie. I stood in line, grateful for the opportunity to share an NBA game with Dan, realizing at this point, we were in for at least $150.00 for tickets, parking, and concessions purchased prior to the opening jump ball. And when I looked up at the menu to find that one chocolate chip cookie cost $4.50, well, I almost turned and ran away. Really? So that's how they're paying for this new basketball palace. But Daniel had asked for nothing all night except for that cookie, so I planned to move up in the line and fork over the cash for his treat, thinking all the while that I could purchase two large packs of Chips Ahoy for the price of this one damn cookie. Still, the evening was a special treat for our pre-teen nephew, so I pulled out a $5.00 dollar bill while I waited patiently in line to "do the right thing." I stood behind two big-bellied guys with their sport's caps on backwards, one stuffed into a red Nascar t-shirt, the other donning Lynyrd Skynyrd. Obviously, both men had one too many of those giant beers in the special plastic, "inaugural season" cups designed to commemorate the opening of the new building, yet it looked like they were going back for even more.
That's when an “all smiles” young lady, a petite, young black girl, probably in her early twenties came close to the line to sweep a piece of trash into her dustpan. I felt a pang of privilege knowing that she had to work and could not enjoy the game, imagining that even though the minimum wage in Texas had just been raised within the last month from $3.35 to 5.15, she might have to work a 40-hour week just to enjoy one night out like my family was enjoying this evening. While I was doing the math in my head, HE, the biggest of the two guys, dropped the napkin wrapped around his beer as she walked away. When she saw the napkin fall, she sprightly turned back around to sweep it into her pan. With her work done, she began to head to another area, and that's when HE then threw an empty popcorn bag onto the ground. Again, but this time with her head down, so she pivoted to sweep up the newly tossed trash and quickly walked away. Then, HE pulled a crumpled-up promotional event flier from his pocket and threw the concert ad hard against the ground, but she was already walking away from the line with her back turned. He called to her, "Hey! Pick up that trash." She kept walking away, but he continued, "Hey girl! Hey "black trash" girl. Come get this trash. It's your job, girl." His tone and two-syllable "gur-all" forced the hair on my arms stand at attention.
I stood, frozen, watching this small soul return to the scene of the crime one last time to scoop up HIS trash and then fade away into the crowded lobby. I could not, did not move; I felt sick to my stomach and dirty, real dirty all over. I searched for her with my eyes, but the sweet sweeper was gone. When I was finally able to move, I quickly shifted to another line for a different window, removing myself from the area consumed by the hateful energy of that big man who was actually so very small. In spite of everything, I did the right thing and followed through with the purchase of Daniel's cookie, numb as I was.
I don't remember who the Mavericks played that night or who won that game. In fact, I don't remember much at all except the shame I felt in my silence as I stood by and watched that bully abuse this beautiful, young, hard-working girl. I feared his drunk anger even though the rage was directed at her, not me, so I cannot imagine how scared she must have been. And what was my white, professional, 40ish self thinking by imagining how many hours she would have to work to attend an NBA game, calculating our expenses that evening and then dividing that total by the newly increased minimum wage. How delusional to think about her through my lens; she needed her job, not to fund her entertainment budget, but to fund her life.
This year, oh this year! I've turned so inward that I'm about to turn inside out; however, such introspection can heal wounds. I've always thought I've tried to do the right thing, but remembering how I was once a bystander rather than an up-stander makes me contemplate all the other missed opportunities. “Doing the right thing really isn’t that difficult.” I know I’ve said that hundreds of times in the past, but now, flooded with such uncomfortable memories, I must take stock of my actions. Shouldn’t we all? Shouldn't we just do the right thing?