“I’m so sorry,” the man said as he felt his arm bump someone, then heard the whump of packages hitting the floor.
“I hope nothing broke,” the man said as he bent down to pick up whatever fell.
“You don’t have…,” the young woman he had bumped began to say.
“It’s my fault,” the man replied as he straightened up and handed the boxes to her. Both he and she noticed the sudden silence and stillness around them. Each could see, from their own perspective, that the people around them had stopped in their tracks and were staring at the two of them.
“I guess nobody’s seen a man helping a woman,” the man said loudly, looking around at the people staring at them, daring them to protest his act of kindness, many of whom quickly turned away.
“Please don’t,” the young woman said, obviously embarrassed.
“Don’t be embarrassed,” the man said. “They should be ashamed to think anything is unusual about a man picking up what you dropped. Yes, I know, I’m white and you’re not. So what? This is the twentieth century, isn’t it? It’s 1912 already! I know the President has just fired all the blacks in civil service and it makes me angry.
“Your kindness is appreciated,” she replied.
“Just last week,” he continued. “I was at a fancy dinner with a foreign guest, he was wearing the robes of some Eastern country. He was an extraordinary man who did an astonishing thing yet acted as if it was the most natural thing in the world. And it should be. He invited a friend of his, a black man, into the dinner with the rest of us. He rearranged the place settings, so this black man was sitting beside him, in the seat of honor, and acted as if it was the most normal thing! It was normal! It should be normal for everyone! We should be long past slavery; it’s been half a century! When will we recognize that we’re all human beings?”
“I know,” the young black woman said. “And I thank you, but even with that example, we both know change can’t happen overnight. Maybe it will be better for our grandchildren.”
“He said it will happen,” the man continued. “He said we are like flowers in a garden and the more diversity there is, the more beautiful the garden is. And he’s right!
“What a lovely idea.”
“Yes. It makes so much sense,” the man agreed. “And odd too, the man said he was merely a servant, Servant of Glory was his name in English. In his language it is Abdu’l-Baha. He’s been in the newspapers here.”
“I read about him!” The woman said in surprise, her eyes opening wide. “He’s remarkable. He’s been a prisoner for most of his life, then came here.”
“Seeing him, meeting him, is a truly unforgettable experience,” the man added. “I hope to God he’s right. I wish I could do more to help his vision come true.”
“Right now,” the woman replied. “I think you’ve done a lot.”
“Maybe you’re right,” he answered. “Maybe some of these people who passed us have learned a little lesson in civility and humanity.”
“Thank you,” she said smiling in gratitude. “I must be going.”
“So must I.”
They parted ways as new and unlikely friends.
Note to the reader: Though this interaction and conversation are fictional, the dinner, and actions taken there, are not. That dinner happened on 23 April 1912 in Washington D.C. The custom of segregation was defied by Abdu’l-Baha in his efforts to encourage integration and realization of understanding of the oneness of the human race.