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Another Conversation with a Stranger Reveals I'm Still Learning©

Updated: Feb 6, 2023

Tuesday, January 24, after auditing the 3:30-6:00 p.m. course "Love and Desire," that convened on the campus of Duke University at the Divinity School located in Durham, North Carolina, I decided to eat where the undergraduate and graduate students dine. There is a diverse selection of restaurants located near the student center. Various smells and tastes from around the world flood your palate as you open the doors to this large, wide, and open space. I considered Thai, old fashioned American, sushi, or soul food. Instead, I chose one of my favorites: tandoori food inspired by Indian cuisine. I sat down at one of the high up in the sky tables close to the pathway students travel on their quest to satiate. The tables located there look like they're designed for centers who play for the Duke Men's Basketball Team. The chair in which I sat invited me to imagine what my almost one year old grand-daughter, Isabella, must feel like when she sits down at table to ravish and devour new tastes.

I was dressed in clothes that back in the 1970's would have been described by my Black American friends as you styling today Dude: sport coat, semi-dress pants, and of course a brown leather hat I ordered from one of my places of ancestry, Ireland. The shoes, a pair of brown Finn hiking shoes, did not quite match the look, but after all, I am sixty-three and need all of the support scurrying across the campus I can get as I speed walk with the other life long learners chasing destinations to be some place else.

As I savored chicken tikka masala, I heard the voice of a woman who walked up behind me. "Excuse me," she said. "I just had to come over and say something to you. I love the hat you're wearing. It reminds me of the hats my uncles wear." Looking at her brown beautiful skin, I recognized her Southern accent and realized she was Black American. I said, "Thank you." Then I took off my hat, revealed my shiny bald head and said, "Actually this is my hair."

We laughed.

"This is one of my favorite hats. Ever since I was a teenager, I have developed close friendships with Black American men I consider to be my brothers. We grew up together. Their style is deeply ingrained in who I am." We shared a warm smile. For a moment, I considered inviting her to sit down at table with me and share a meal. I don't know why I hesitated. I assumed she did not want to sit down and eat with some old white guy. (We had already crossed that bridge so I quickly wondered why I was hesitant.) I didn't want her to think that I was strange. I didn't want her to think I was an old guy hitting on a young college woman. (I know: that makes no sense. Perhaps being with college students took me back in time and I remembered what I was like as a college student when more intimate table conversations could lead to other expressions of intimacy.) I assumed she was probably pretty busy. So, I said to her, "Thanks for stopping by. I'm glad I remind you of your uncles." She laughed and we felt a connection. She said, "I hope you have a great day" and proceeded to find some food to eat.

As I reflect upon this conversation, I feel happy and sad. I feel happy that we connected. I feel sad because I think I missed out on a fascinating conversation with a young woman who obviously missed being home. I missed out on receiving the holy flavoring that occurs when two strangers sit down to break bread. I missed hearing interesting stories of her life that would have helped us to see more, learn more, change more, and grow up to be more like Jesus.

Of course, there's always next time. I'm still learning!

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