Monday, September 26, 2016

The Lessons of Roy H. Porter Jr.

Back in 1979, my mother was on a bus traveling home and, as the bus passed through the predominantly African-American neighborhood of Harlem, a young black man (as was the term back then), grabbed her purse and sprinted off the bus just as the doors were closing. My mother yelled out but the bus driver kept going. For reasons we never could understand (and gave her hell for), my mother got off the bus at the next stop and headed back through what was considered a rather dangerous neighborhood, attempting to find what would have been called "a thug" back then.

"And WHAT would you have done if you found him?" was the question that always went unanswered.

A few hours later, as my mother was listing all that had been stolen from her - her credit cards, her driver's license, her Columbia University ID card, and more, she received a phone call from a Roy Porter who told her that as he entered his building, he found her wallet and its contents spread all over the floor in the lobby. He told her that there were credit cards, the school ID, the license and then with great sadness, he told her that obviously the thief had stolen all the money.

My mother laughed and told him, "my mother always said, 'never leave your money in your wallet!' The thief didn't get anything!" she told Mr. Porter. They arranged for my mother (this time escorted by my father) to meet him later the next day.

I asked me mother if I could bake Mr. Porter some chocolate chip cookies, which she delivered to him with a note thanking him for caring enough to call and return my mother's property. A few weeks later, I received a hand-written note. The stationary said, "Roy H. Porter, Jr." and it said:
Dear Paula,     August 17, 1979
 I should say "you shouldn't have done it!" but I'm glad you did. I have never tasted such delicious chocolate chip cookies  ever! Thank you - I was only too happy to have found your mother's purse with all the cards and papers. I know what she went through.
 Hopefully there is still a few decent people around. Wishing you  and your family all the best.
Roy Porter  
It's been 37 years since that happened. That a black man called my mother and returned her wallet and its contents. That a white teenager baked cookies for a black man to thank him and the black man took the time to write back. I still have that note. Every few years, I clean out a drawer and find it and just as I'm about to throw it out, I put it back in the drawer.

I don't remember how old Mr. Porter was when this happened. I don't know what happened to him, if he is still alive, if he has a family, where he lives. But I hold on to his note because this is a reminder to me of how people should be. Kind. Good. Decent.

I listen to the news and see how Americans are speaking of their future president - it honestly doesn't matter which one wins. In either case, America loses. Or, to be more accurate, America has lost already because America is all black and blue.

Black lives matter. Blue lives matter. White lives matter. No one should murder another - not for money and not for hatred. Cops should not be shooting innocent black men; black men shouldn't be shooting cops. Whites shouldn't hate blacks; blacks shouldn't hate whites.

I have never seen the hatred, the cruelty that I see in the US elections. I don't remember a country of such violence. It seems that almost daily there are reports of mass shootings and endless violence.

I grew up in a town that had a large number of Jews and a large number of blacks - we lived, worked, learned, shopped, voted, celebrated and mourned in that beautiful town that I loved. It wasn't perfect; but I don't remember it being cruel.

Black lives matter? Of course they do! Is it really necessary to say that? I guess maybe it is. But how do they get from trying to remind the world of their value, by thinking that suddenly makes them experts on the world? The Black Lives Matter organization thinks Israel is wrong and racist. Really? Have they ever been here? Ever taken a ride on a train in Jerusalem? Ever been to an Israeli hospital? Racist? Wow.

And why in the world would we need to announce that Blue lives matter? Is there anyone who thinks they don't? What has happened to America that people will soon go to the polls to vote against the lesser of two evils? Is that the best there is? Where are the Roy Porters? The ones who see something wrong and do all they can to make it right?

Perhaps I kept his note all these years as a reminder that across cultural lines, we have more in common than that which divides us. Perhaps it gave me hope that one day we could bridge similar cultural divides here. Roy Porter was a black man who reached out to help a white family without any consideration to color and more, he took the time to thank me when really, I was the one trying to show my gratitude to him.

I'm putting Roy Porter's note back in the drawer praying that the next time I find it, I'll be able to throw it out because it won't seem so extraordinary.  


Yiscah said...

That letter sounds so precious that perhaps you'd want to frame it?

A Soldier's Mother said...

Thanks, Yiscah

I can't frame it because it is a card with two sides so I'd have to give up on one side if I framed it. Truth is, I think if I ever felt I could throw it out, it would be because somehow the world had gotten to a kinder place and that type of action wouldn't be so rare. Not to get too political, but I kind of doubt it will by any time in the next four years.

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