Elevator Conversation

He joined me in the elevator this morning. He was Black.
A Black man and a white woman riding an elevator, particularly in our multi-ethnic neighbourhood, is a non-event, as it should be. Certainly, there’s the common elevator awkwardness of spending 30 seconds with a stranger in what is essentially a closet, add to that COVID-19 restrictions that now only allow two people on at a time. But otherwise an everyday benign occurrence.
Given the recent and rampant news of racism in the States, this ride makes me notice and wonder about him.
It took me that full 30 seconds of making our way silently to the ground floor together to work up my courage. “May I ask you something? How are you doing with the recent news of George Floyd?”
I held my breath as I witnessed him navigate the tricky waters of figuring out my intentions.
My own lack of sensitivity made me tear up for the position I’d put him in, that I would bring up the news that would highlight our differences and put him in the hot seat to answer.
As much as I’ve come to welcome what I call this “gift of tears,” which springs up most often out of empathy or gratitude, I felt really stupid in that moment. It was a release, I suppose, of tension and sorrow for how the divide between black and white communities is magnified, how wariness is brought into relationships with friends and encounters with strangers.
And then, bless his heart, he started consoling me. I mean, this was not my intention at all.
We left the elevator together and stood in the lobby for a while longer as he graciously shared how he was doing.
“It was intensely painful to witness. I take it personally. I am grieving for my people, for the racism that is in the US and here too. There is no comprehending it, but it is a warning to all of us and requires our participation. We have to work against it. We can’t let this come between us.”
He asked my name and told me his. Nick.
For #GeorgeFloyd for #Nick, we must keep working to bridge the divide. A good place to start is in the elevator.

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