A strange man talking to two little girls isn’t necessarily something to be afraid of.
We were all in the grassy amphitheater by the Rose Garden. I was the tall white guy with the shaved head, tossing a frisbee around with a lady friend. You were a young black woman listening to music on earbuds while you watched your daughters run around. (I assume they were your daughters; I apologize if I’m mistaken about that.)
When the younger of your two girls approached me and shyly said “Hello”, and when her sister joined her, you did something most parents don’t: you let them play with me.
I’m used to parents pulling their kids closer when I pass by. I’m used to seeing parents hurry over to a child who greets a stranger, gathering the child back into their sphere like a herding dog. I’m used to people assuming I’m a threat, to the point that I don’t bother to be offended any more. It’s just what folks do.
You didn’t, though. You sat enjoying the sun, keeping one eye on your kids to be sure they didn’t wander off, and you let us play together.
Me and my friend had a lot of fun teaching your daughters to throw a frisbee. Even if they were a little young to really get the hang of it, it’s never too early to start practicing the fundamentals of important life skills like frisbee. More importantly, they obviously had a good time playing with us.
A frisbee is a wonderful thing on a sunny, breezy day. It dips and bobs and catches light, it floats through the air in a way that, to a little kid, looks an awful lot like magic. It’s fun to let it loft toward you, easy to catch in a way that a ball never is. It’s amazing the first time you toss it with enough spin, so that it sails easily on the air and suddenly the magic is in your own hands.
I’ve never gotten a chance to teach a child to throw a frisbee before, so that was a fun and life-enriching experience for me. Your daughters got some initial instruction in the noble art of the flying disc, so that was a fun and life-enriching experience for them. You made that possible by not choosing fear.
You had reasons to choose fear. Our culture teaches us that kids are under constant threat from strange men, even though in reality when kids are victimized it’s usually by a friend or family member. You grew up saturated in the same culture of fear, and nobody could blame you for buying into it. Then, too, guys with my haircut sometimes have violent tendencies when it comes to people with your skin tone, and your daughters’. I can’t imagine that didn’t cross your mind.
You chose the benefit of the doubt, though. You chose to believe that a game of frisbee was merely a game of frisbee, not a sinister ploy to hurt your two sweet kids. You were willing to trust that I meant no harm.
Maybe it’s absurd that your choice of trust touched me so deeply. It ought to be commonplace, after all, to think the best of people. But it isn’t, and I don’t think I realized until then just how deeply I’d gotten used to being seen as a threat. I’d just come to take it for granted, a natural part of the background noise of life. Politicians lie, rush-hour traffic stinks, and people assume I want to hurt them or their children, that’s just how it is. Until suddenly it isn’t.
Thanks for helping me see things differently, and thanks for your part in making it a fun afternoon in the park. May you and your daughters never have cause to wish you’d chosen fear.