The Content of Character

It took a leaky transmission to prove this point in my life: I tend to judge people by first appearance.  This all happened, ironically, the week we celebrate the life and work of Martin Luther King.  I have tried to use this blog to share honest reflections of life.  This is one I am not particularly proud of. But, and let me emphasize that, I am still learning and trying to change.

So – here is the story.  Our 2002 Chevy Trailblazer is being held together with stop leak fluids, duct tape and prayer.  The transmission has been leaking of late and yesterday I went to a local auto parts store to get advice on a temporary repair. My heart and bank account could not accept the installing of a new transmission so I was in search of the next alternative.  Cambridge, like most towns across America where Lisa and I have lived, has a plethora of auto parts stores and I pulled into the first one I saw to buy a can of “cheap transmission fix”.  It is important to this story to say that I have a preconceived idea of what a good auto mechanic looks like.  In my mind it is a middle aged, white male with a two day old beard, greasy fingers and a general look of grime.  The stains on his skin would serve as a living archive of every vehicle he had ever worked on, dating back to that 1975 Pontiac he bought when he turned sixteen. Now that is a man who knows his stuff.  Upon walking into the auto parts store I was looking for that mechanic.  That is not who welcomed me to their store.  Instead, I was greeted by a young, African American female – the last person (complete honest disclosure here) I would imagine could answer questions about my car. I had two choices: 1) turn around and walk out and try the next auto parts store, or 2) take my chances.  I was too embarrassed to turn and walk out and so I chose to give this young lady a chance – not expecting much.

It took about two minutes into our conversation for me to realize it really is not about color of skin but content of character. This young lady knew her stuff.  Not only did she give me info about our car, but, she verbally overhauled our truck by explaining every problem with the 6.0 Ford diesels.  I felt like I was in a scene from the movie, “My Cousin Vinny” listening to Mona Lisa Vito explaining basic auto mechanics.  I only hope she did not read from my face the thoughts in my mind as I walked through her door.

I came away relieved to have good information about our car but a little depressed.  How could I be so judgemental? Have I not learned in my fifty-six years on earth that it is about character and not gender or race? I was convicted.  Throughout my life I have taken pride in my self-proclaimed acceptance of all people.  I worked for twenty years in a public school with a large population of minorities and have proudly spouted off that work record as if it qualified me for some sort of humanitarian award.  During my college days I worked in a local Boys Club whose membership was predominantly African American.  I loved those kids and felt loved in return.  And yet, here I was judging people by their appearance –  not even comfortable with a simple encounter in an auto parts store.  It is moments like these that I feel the pain in the apostle Paul’s words, “Oh, wretched man that I am.”  All I can do is ask forgiveness, learn from my mistakes and try again.

So here is to MLK and the young lady behind that auto parts store counter and to content of character. 

Peace! Steve

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