I don't know why I always seem to see situations like I'm about to describe. But, I do.
Last week, I walked into a Downtown bank to do some business.
At the teller counter I noticed two bank tellers.
One's station was closed, but the man behind the "This Window is Closed" sign appeared to be filling a quasi-security role, sort of watching over the station of the other teller.
Ahead of me, an older gentleman approached the counter. He carried a worn backpack. He wore relatively shabby blue jeans. He could well have been homeless. He appeared to be cashing a check or breaking a larger bill into a small amount of change. The off-duty teller watched him with great interest. He never looked at me.
As he stepped up to the service desk, the teller looked past him and said to me, "Be with you in a moment, Sir."
Of course, I assumed that is how things worked there. A line forms. When it is your turn, you receive service. It occurred to me that the teller felt the need to explain why he was forced to serve the poor, homeless-looking gent first.
I replied, "Not a problem at all."
When the customer--that's what he really was--finished his business and turned toward me to walk away, I said to him, "How are you, Sir!"
Before the man was able to get out what turned into a muted response to my greeting, the teller, assuming I was speaking to him, interrupted our encounter and said, "I'm doing fine. How's your day going?"
The customer, the man to whom I directed my inquiry, looked at me and said simply, "Hello."
You may think me overly sensitive, judgmental or seeing/hearing things that are the product of my weird mind. But, I have to tell you, I don't think so. Not at all.
The man ahead of me had little money, and he looked the part.
I had plenty of money, and I was dressed in clean, pressed, relatively new clothing.
He was black.
I am white.
I had an account.
Surely, no one would be expected to greet him with respect.
It's just the way things work, right?
As I left the bank, the story continued.
I got into my car and drove up Main Street back toward my office. As I pulled away from the curb, I spotted the man on the sidewalk just ahead of me.
He delivered the cash he had received in the bank to a man seated in a wheelchair. He handed him the backpack and began pushing him up the sidewalk. Clearly both were homeless.
Both are no less men than the bank tellers and me.
Both worthy of my respect and courtesy.
Why does money and appearance and status matter so much to us?
Why do we fear the poor?
When will we learn?