Before you begin, this is not a feel-good story. It is not a happy story. It is a real story. It happened to me.
Whenever I treat myself to coffee, I buy somebody else’s. Not something I talk about, just something I do.
This time, I asked the two women in line in front of me if it would be alright if I got theirs. I did not want to force myself on them or squelch any plans that they may have had. They were delighted and thanked me. One even told me it was her birthday.
We introduced ourselves. Chatted a bit. I told them that I hoped they weren't offended that I offered to buy their coffee. They told me not at all and assured me, this was the best.
I said it was the least I could do in these crazy times. I paid for the coffee and excused myself to the restroom before ordering mine, as I had walked all of the way to the coffee shop and was about to have a meeting.
Unexpectedly, the two women waited for me to return and hugged me before leaving, telling me to keep doing good. To keep being kind. And then left.
I am happy that they left, walking out with smiles on their faces…before the rest happened.
One of the employees behind the counter thanked me for what I had done as I stepped up to now order my own coffee.
As I moved aside to wait for my order, a male (I will not call him a man or a gentleman, he is neither) in an "Irish Lives Matter" t-shirt, let me know exactly what he thought of me buying coffee for two black women.
He took his coffee. Then he made a point of letting me know again. Then he went over by the self-service station.
They called my name for my coffee. It was iced. I asked if they had a straw and they said they were over at the self-service station.
I saw him there. And he waited. For me.
It was a public place. If I did not walk over there and get that simple straw, he would win. Be emboldened. And do it again. Or worse.
I took a straw.
He angled himself between me and the front door. I was in the corner of the cart and the wall.
He spewed his venom at me.
Hate is very real. I was there. Inches away. In California. In a "nice" neighborhood.
I stayed calm, though I was very shaken inside and made my move to go towards the front door. And then he walked in. My pastor.
As I said his name, my voice wavered. I am so disappointed that my voice wavered. But I felt afraid. And it’s okay to feel afraid. It’s not okay to do the wrong thing.
He hugged me and said we would leave and go somewhere safe.
And as we headed out the door, I saw them in the far corner. Two former students of mine. Two minority students.
I volunteer to teach preschoolers on Wednesday mornings.
I said to my pastor in my quivering voice, "Those are my students." And then I couldn't hold it in. The tears began to fall. Not for myself, but because they had to be there for that.
We got outside and I said, "No! I am not leaving! I cannot! I will not!"
We sat at a table and an employee came out with a glass of water.
The employee informed us this individual was exiting and would be leaving, then stood there with us until he was gone. Between us and him.
I made note of his distinct vehicle. It is burned on my brain.
The employee asked if it would be okay to hug me, then did.
Then my students came outside. The little girl hugged me so tight. And their mother did too. The slightly older brother swallowed, hard, dealing with every emotion written across his face.
I don't care if you write a piece to get yourself attention saying wearing a safety pin is stupid. And I don't care if it's no longer "trendy." Right now, I need an anti-swastika and that's the closest thing I can get. Because wearing a cross ain't cutin' it.
This male? Claimed Christianity as his faith during this exchange!
I walked over to the church with my pastor and he and his little boy drove me home for my own safety.
I will wear my safety pin! And there will be consequences. But I will wear it!
And I will continue to buy coffee for whomever I please. And I will pursue actions of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. And there will be consequences for those too.
Even in "nice" neighborhoods.