Last night as I prepared my evening dinner the doorbell at my flat on the peak of Bernal Heights dinged. Weezer gave a happy bark, excited at the possibility of who may be visiting him. I rushed down the stairs, peering through the glass for a brief moment and opened the door to a huge (were talking the size of two NFL players fused together) young man I came to know as Darrel. He began his spiel, which was simply a melody of words I could not truly concentrate on. Thinking about my overcooked pasta, I asked him if he could return tomorrow, that is, if he would be in the area as I wanted to help him but couldn’t face a unsatisfying dinner. He politely agreed and turned away as I shut the door and ran back up the staircase. By the time I arrived to the top, I immediately regretted turning Darrel away. I turned off my dinner, grabbed my debit card and a bunch of cash and returned to the dark street in search of the NFL-esque player. I found him a couple houses down and said, “I have 5 minutes for you now. What are you about?” I was hoping for a cause, for some type of organization to support but quickly found out Darrell was selling magazine subscriptions for the local Boys and Girls Club of America (or some affiliated organization). At first I was disappointed because I wanted to support him but had no need for magazines. I asked him, “Can I just make a donation?” “No,” he said, it would have to be a legit transaction for magazines on the books. We sat down on the doorstep as the clear night of San Francisco swirled around us. We began to talk briefly about his life as he fielded my questions – his 1 year old daughter, how he lived in Oakland and how he had once been to New York to visit a college he couldn’t afford to go to. I settled on an outrageously expensive subscription to Entrepreneur magazine.
As we began to part ways he turned back and said, “Can I just say Ma’am? Thank you for answering the door. You are a tiny white woman and I know its dark and most women won’t open the door, they just crack the door and say ’Not today’ – let alone run after me nor sit down next to me.” I could only smile at him as he reached out and hugged me. He was soft spoken, gentle and I would like to believe in any other settling, kind.
This exchange has left me still, as I prepare for my day ahead, thinking about the perception of fear.
When people learn I work in travel one of the most frequent statements I hear is, “Aren’t you afraid of these places?” (I especially receive this question when people ask where I most want to go in the world which would be Iran, Turkey and Jerusalem). My response tends to be the same. No. I am more afraid not to see the incredible beauty the world has to offer than that someone will hurt me. If I perish at the hands of hatred it is only to be and true wanderlust has no sense of fear.
As people begin to think of their upcoming holidays, many are met with the blinding fear the Paris attacks have brought forth about traveling to Europe. I can only think that we cannot sit in our homes, our safe little cities and watch the world from afar. Now is the time to embrace the human experience. Now is the time to venerate the cultural heritage of foreign lands for there are people out there who may want to wash away their existence.
We all, in some way or another need to open the door to Darrel. To invite the ability to know, if only for a few cold moments perched upon a chilly San Francisco doorstep, another human – no matter how different from us they may be. We need to embrace cultural exchange with those who don’t look like us or those who may not think like us because as Darrel suggested, struggle and the human condition is something we cannot escape.
LeAnne J. Smith