On the Receiving End of a Small Dignity


12 comments posted
Interesting post. Not being

Interesting post. Not being there, it's impossible for me to say whether you did the best thing. But if your intentions were good, I don't see how your actions could possibly be chalked up to internalized racism. That's nuts. Whites in this society all benefit from white privilege, and too few of us are willing to acknowledge that simple fact as you have done. That said, I imagine I would've carried on as always - maybe striking up a friendly conversation with the African American woman, too, if I were feeling especially extroverted. Who's to say whether she might not simply have thought, "Gosh, people seem relaxed and friendly here!" Good fellow-feeling is often catching, don't you think?

Posted by Dave on February 13, 2008 5:42 PM
Yes, Dave, I could have

Yes, Dave, I could have received the Russians bestowal of special treatment and been my normal friendly self while others were on the scene. But even that normalcy, leaving race completely out of it, would have felt like a violation that needed to be managed.

The exchanges between me and "The Russian" have been going on for a couple of years, if not more. Our routine is part of a ritual. Rituals can lose their power when they are changed. And ritual change is worst when it's not done plan-fully or for a reason. Rituals eschew analysis, while you performing them, at least.

The arrival of the African-American women in the car pushed away the ritual and left me in my head. I don't think that anyone had ever driven up to the station just at the same time I did. It was her presence that flustered me, period. Once I was out of my body and into my head, I started analyzing/overanalyzing the situation.

I guess part of what I'm getting at is how small ritualized exchanges between people, outside the context of religion or long-established groups or relationships, can and do point to a spark of the Divine.

Knowing details about who the people are, not only doesn't help, it makes it worse. Am I objectifying them then? Maybe. In a human way. What is the relationship I have with folks I go to synagogue with but with whom I have never spoken. There is indeed a connection I have them, despite the lack of a personal connection in the typical sense.

Obviously I love my brain. I wouldn't be thinking about this stuff and writing about it if I didn't. But I'm noticing that there are experiences that can take place with human beings that make the world itself more human in which the particulars of who I am and who the other person is just are not important.

Posted by Shai Gluskin on February 13, 2008 6:34 PM
I just deleted two comments.

I just deleted two comments. I've never even deleted one comment before. The first comment identified the folks who work at the gas station by name. Clearly the commenter liked folks who worked there. He shared some of what his own banter had been with them. He was curious about which of the workers I had been referring to. I felt uncomfortable with the post in that I realized I had "given our secret away." Would the gas station guy himself be alerted to the URL and see the story for himself. Likely yes. Would that be a problem?

It was after the second comment that I knew I had to take both of them down. The second comment gave two examples that, in the writer's mind, demonstrated the bad character of the folks who work/own that gas station.

True the story was grounded in real experiences. But as writing I meant it to be more like an inspirational tale. I wanted the story to be transpersonal, not personal. I certainly didn't expect it to be a come rate your local gas station opportunity.

In addition to taking down the two comments, I changed the name of the city where the story takes place.

I'm sure there is a lesson about blogging here; I just don't know what it is, yet.

Posted by Shai Gluskin on February 13, 2008 6:09 PM
Could the lesson in blogging

Could the lesson in blogging here been discovered by AA ->

anonymity is the spiritual foundation of the blogesphere?

Posted by Simcha Raphael on February 13, 2008 6:49 PM
I don't think anonymity is

I don't think anonymity is the spiritual foundation of the blogosphere. I've been very comfortable being myself in the blogosphere. Sim, I see you used your real name for signing the comment. Even first and last!

But of course, I'm talking about my identity. I think the trouble I got into here was talking about someone else's identity. What is a character in my "tale" is a person who in his own right who other people actually know.

I was doing a kind of exegesis on life. When I talk about Abraham and Isaac (of Genesis, that is), I don't have to worry about how my retelling of their story will impact on them? But with the guys at the gas station, I do.

Posted by Shai Gluskin on February 13, 2008 8:05 PM
I really enjoyed your blog

I really enjoyed your blog post on the small dignity. Having a special just-between-us kind of minchag with people goes on all the time and its the kind of thing we rarely talk about. There's a store in my neighborhood that sells fresh produce. Over many years, the owner noticed that I often buy tomatoes off his discount shelf--those almost overripe and damaged ones that he can't in good conscience sell at full price. He once inquired and I told him that I like to use them for gazpacho or home made sauce. Now, frequently, when I come in he'll quietly go and get a bag of these tomatoes and put them in with my purchases but doesn't charge me. Now, would he have done this had there been any other customers in the store? I don't know, but I like the way he is honoring that we have a kind of a friendship through my being a good customer. I don't know if he does this with anyone else, but it doesn't really matter. I do enjoy that feeling of specialness.

Posted by Lisa on February 14, 2008 1:54 PM
Nice story. I thought that

Nice story. I thought that what you did spared the woman possible embarrassment if she saw you being able to "pump and pay" and find that she was not accorded the same courtesy, perhaps thinking that it was because she was black.

Posted by Richard Braun on February 15, 2008 12:01 PM
But "I remember the days"

But "I remember the days" that when you drove up to the gas station, an attendant came out, filled up your tank, washed the windows front and back, opened the hood to check the oil and water and personally thanked you for your business after you paid him in cash or credit card -- and you might even have gotten some blue or green stamps, a sports glass or some other souvenir.
Pumping my own gas (which I do easily at the age of 81) seems acceptable now, and I am grateful that cars are technically built better so that oil and water does not need checking every time you fill the tank. The pumps work better too so that I don't spill any gasoline on my shoes, and I accomplish the task without talking to anyone!
Time marches on!

Posted by Zita Gluskin on February 15, 2008 1:08 PM
Sounds like you definitely

Sounds like you definitely did the right thing in deleting those two comments, Shai. I like your point about rituals.

Posted by Dave on February 15, 2008 4:04 PM
Are stories something made

Are stories something made up, like the Iliad, Star Wars, or a Superbowl advertisement? Your deletions makes me think of the other storytelling, shaping just from real people and events. This psychologic sculpturing is so important- the chance to find beautiful things in the unpleasant or ordinary, and to discover yourself living inside the story itself.

Posted by Jonathan Gordon Wu on February 18, 2008 9:47 PM
You're talking about

You're talking about old-fashioned credit. I used to go shopping in Fargo and charge everything, pre-credit cards. Same at the corner grocery.

In this age of anonymous chain stores, being known fills a deep human desire. My son Zach and I used to go out for breakfast every Sunday morning at a Greek coffee shop in Roxborough. When we would come in, they would automatically serve me black coffee with milk in a little glass (not cream) and bring Zach chocolate milk, our standing order. I beamed each time. We were KNOWN!

Re: the African American lady in the beat-up car. I thought the end of the story was that before you could sensitively go in and amend your normal minhag, the owner also signaled to her to tank up, without paying first. That would have been a nice twist!

Posted by Betsy on February 19, 2008 10:13 AM
Betsy, I love that


I love that alternative ending. As a life-story evolves into a "tale" over time, maybe indeed that will be the ending. A story can't "point" to something; it doesn't need to pass muster as evidence in order to teach.

Posted by Shai Gluskin on February 20, 2008 6:21 PM