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I was terrified of the world around me, and confused enough to call that feeling of terror “courage.” This miserable condition was plainly evident in my appearance.
Yet a seed was planted in my heart that day you saw it behind the swastika.
A seed hardy enough to take root and sprout in the desolation of fear and ignorance. Together with my family that refused to give up on me, and my daughter who needed me, the kindness of peace warriors like yourself brought love to my life until there was no longer room for hate.
Our paths crossed during a time in my life when I radiated hostility, especially towards anyone with a darker complexion than mine.
You demonstrated the courage necessary to respond to my ignorant, fearful aggression with compassion—from behind a cash register at Mc Donald’s. A zeal for violence and the willingness to engage in it at the slightest provocation was my idea of courage. Via an ongoing practice of ignorance, fueled by hate and ego, I had managed to convince myself that white people were superior to everyone else, and that there was a worldwide Jewish conspiracy to wipe us out.
Thoughtless, I had managed to forget my discomfort with your past kindness.
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I would have chosen another restaurant for my one meal a week that wasn’t ramen noodles, which I ate otherwise to conserve drinking money.
But as the money went from my hand to yours, the swastika was revealed.
The look in your eyes for the split-second they met mine before I shamefully looked away is still clear as day over two decades later.
Dear nice old black lady at Mc Donald’s, I think of you fondly and often, and I talk about you all the time.
You wouldn’t think that a cumulative five minutes of contact at a fast food restaurant over the course of a few weeks could help change the course of a life, and subsequently change the course of countless other lives, but that’s exactly what happened.