Like many small towns in the South during the 1950s, men would gather near the county courthouse on clear, warm Saturdays to whittle, smoke a pipe, and solve the world’s problems. In the Tennessee mountain town where my grandparents lived, I loved to travel to town with my grandmother (aka Grandpa) on Saturday mornings.
We had a tradition of going to Hill’s Department Store to look at pretty shoes, the dime store to buy candy and a toy, and then to the grocery. However, I also wanted to visit the men around the courthouse. According to my parents, I was about 2 years old when I attempted to start a conversation with anyone I saw. Even though most of those folks didn’t understand a word I was saying, I sure thought they did.
“Child, you don’t have a shy bone in your body!” they would exclaim, and they were right about that. To this day, y’all know I don’t even understand what “shy” means.
Grandpa and I sat on the bench eating our candy near the steps of the historic stone Cumberland County Courthouse. The men were all chattering, except for one gentleman who sat alone. I had made my rounds to check in with all of them, but I walked by the man who was alone.
When I returned to my bench, Grandpa asked, “Honey, why did you not talk to that man who was by himself?”
“I don’t know, but I don’t think he is like the others. He looks funny and I think he is grumpy,” I explained.
I couldn’t have been more than 4, but what I learned that Saturday has remained deep within my heart.
“Lynn, if you want to cure grumpiness, always be the first to say hello, offer a smile and friendship. And never, never judge a person by the way they look. Ever. You take this dollar and go talk to the man. I’ll bet he could use both the dollar and a friend!”
She placed the bill in my little hand, and since I was convinced Grandpa was a cousin to Jesus himself, I better do what she said.
I sat with the disheveled man until Grandpa came over to get me. She took my hand, and as we walked away, the man and I continued to wave goodbye. He was now my friend.
That is how we begin to cure discrimination. We start by saying hello to everyone we pass. We offer a smile and our warmth to all people. We give them the benefit of the doubt; we never judge by the way they look, the way they speak, or the color of their skin. It is up to every single human being to put an end to the reckless evil of self-righteousness.
I am actively on a mission to be the first to wave and shout a big ol’ sincere “hi” to those I see, especially if they don’t look like me. I passed a woman the other day walking into the grocery store as I was leaving. A mask covered my mouth; however, a smile always reflects in our eyes.
She looked at me and must have realized my eyes were smiling as I said, “hello!” After a slight pause, she immediately returned both the smile and the greeting.
You see, we are all the same. We love to be amid kindness and acceptance. Most of us know that when we bridge gaps with caring, the world works better and we move forward. We all should strive for fairness and equality.
There is only one who can judge us. Only one. And it isn’t me or you or any group, or any political leader or party, or any human being on earth. The only judge is our Creator, and when we try to take over his job, there will be a price to pay. He alone knows our hearts.
Many times, folks deemed me unintelligent because I speak with a definite Southern accent. My saving grace was Dolly Parton, who clearly showed the world intelligence can hide and flourish behind a blond wig, a guitar, and a Tennessee mountain accent like mine.
In the early ’70s, my best friend in college was black and some of my best buddies during my interior design career were not heterosexual. Once you know someone, love someone, all color, all accents, and all anything else goes away because you embrace their spirit.
As we walk around in our earthly bodies, who is judging our spirit? It might be a good idea to start waving, shouting hello, and being sincerely kind. There is only one righteous judge. He is Grandpa’s cousin who taught me early to never view folks just with my eyes.