I was talking to the dark-skinned African gentleman behind the counter at a 7-Eleven today. Actually, I was mostly listening. He seemed to be in a very good mood, his smile broad and genuine.
I was there to get my Double Gulp Diet Dr Pepper. I’ve discovered that by putting in just a few ice cubes, splashing (quite) a bit of vanilla syrup from the coffee station and then filling it with my soda of choice, I wound up with a tremendously delicious drink, and one that would last me a couple of days. Seriously, Double Gulp is huge, and there are too many chemicals to count, since there is absolutely nothing natural in it. Someday, in the future, I will stop drinking soda and will only drink water, milk, tea, and freshly squeezed uh, uh,… I guess anything freshly squeezed is good. But not yet. Not today.
But I digress (as I often do). As I came up to the counter to pay for my drink, I noticed a dime the previous customer left behind. I moved it towards the gentleman minding the store. “This was left behind,” I told him, helpfully.
In an African accent, he replied, “Yes, it was that lady. But I think she is driving away.” He pointed toward the parking lot, and I turned and saw a tan-colored, older Honda pulling away from a parking spot in front. He shook his head and laughed lightly.
“When she came in, she was mean. What a mess,” he said, accepting my money for the Diet Dr Pepper, and then giving me change. “But I never changed towards her. I was always the same, and slowly, she came around. She was mean. And she was still mean, and then she came around, because I always treat her the same.”
“Well, she’s not nice,” I told him, putting away my wallet. “People who treat others meanly, just because they’re not in a position of power, just because they aren’t someone like their boss, well … it’s just not nice. It tells a lot about that other person.”
“It doesn’t matter to me,” he said, and laughed again. He touched his chest. “I treat others the same way I treat myself. It’s like looking in the mirror. That woman, she is God’s daughter, just like I am God’s son.”
Here he paused and looked at me expectantly.
His words made me remember a passage in our Reform Jewish prayer book. We don’t recite it every week, because we like to vary our prayers so they don’t become too automated, but we recite it often enough that it is ingrained in my memory. In this prayer we thank God for giving us our souls.
My God, the soul You have given me is pure.
You created it, You shaped it, You breathed it into me,
and You protect within me…
I always liked that image, imagining a piece of clay that gets a holy breath whooshed in, and becomes animated. OK, so maybe in my mind it is more of a Golem figure coming to life. But this passage always instills in me a powerful image, and when reading it, I always do this breathing out thing on the word “breathed.”
“Sure,” I said, “let’s say we all have divinity within us.”
He laughed with pleasure, as if I just brilliantly passed a test. “Yes! What do you see when you look in the mirror? You see yourself! Treat others like you treat yourself. Treat others like you would treat God!”
At this point I was smiling as broadly as he was. I was in a good mood when I walked into the 7-Eleven. Now I was in a great mood walking out.
We wished each other a good day, and I walked into the sunshine. For the rest of the day, I did not stop smiling, at strangers and family alike, each of them a child of God.