While I was waiting for Novocain (or the like thereof) to do its thing, a dental assistant told me how pleasantly surprised he was when a family on a Chicago beach invited him to share their picnic.  

He said he sat near them on his blanket, alone.  

I asked, “Were they black?” My question irritated him.  

“Why do Americans always have to identify people by color or ethnicity,” he snarled. “People don’t do that in France, my country.”  

I doubted that what he said about France was true but decided not to argue the point, since he was going to work in my mouth.  

I simply said, “I guess that’s just the way we are.”  (My Filipino friends would have asked him if the family was Filipino.  Sharing food is important to many cultures.)

Well, since that’s the way (as he said) we Americans are, I’ll identify the characters in the following story as much as possible by race, color, ethnicity, age, etc.

I was on a Chicago bus that, of course, had some seating up front to be given up to the elderly and disabled.  

At one of the stops, a man in a wheelchair boarded.  People got up from the seating that accommodates wheelchairs but did not bother to put the seat up.  

A brown-skinned woman appearing to be in her 40s got up from her seat across the aisle and raised the seat.  

The African American man in the wheelchair settled into the space, and the bus continued on.  Shortly thereafter, the man said something to a very attractive young African American woman across the aisle from him.  She looked at him briefly then focused on her iPod.  

The man said something to her again, but she ignored him.  I couldn’t hear what he said and wondered if she heard him, too, since she wore earplugs.  

Then I thought:  Maybe he’s flirting with her and that’s why she’s ignoring him.  

The man started twisting and turning trying to reach something in the back of his wheelchair.

Finally, the same brown-skinned woman who had put the seat up went over to him.  He said something to her, and she removed a plastic grocery bag that had one of its handles ripped off.  With his instructions, she secured the bag to one of the wheelchair’s handles.  

Although I could not hear him, I surmised that he was thanking her as she sat down across from him again because I heard her say, “You’re welcome.”  

Judging from the woman’s color, her accent, the texture of her hair, her dress and maybe even her willingness to extend herself, I assumed she was from India or Pakistan.  

When her eyes caught mine, I smiled at her, noddedmy head and gave her a “you’re A-OK” sign with my fingers.  

Thanks to this woman for demonstrating that humans don’t have to be the same to be humane to each other.



Peggy Tarr

Peggy Tarr has been a columnist for the Evanston RoundTable since its founding in 1998. Born in Bruce Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree...