The Third Young Man

The minister looked at the third young man. He was tall and thin and somewhat stooped, and he wore the kind of glasses young men use to say, “I don’t care to be virile or tough or attractive.” Clark Kent glasses, if you will, without the superman filling out the Kent. His eyes seemed ever so slightly to cross — perhaps as an adjustment through the lenses but perhaps also because of a minor defect, one that might be fetching on a sister but was disconcerting on him. The minister examined him and then turned around. “Daniel Johnson grew up in a predominantly black, lower-middle-class neighborhood. He attended a series of predominantly black schools. In each one, you could point to the dilapidated furniture or leaking ceiling or benumbed faculty, and then drive a couple miles along a major artery to another school, one that has interested faculty, no leaks, books and chairs that don’t tilt. You can guess the skin color of those attending the other schools. Daniel knew all the disparaging names for these kids, had a hundred reasons why he hated a system that gave those pasty-skinned brats and lawyers’ sons and doctors’ daughters all the advantages. But most of all he hated the daily markers of their system of repression. The dilapidated schools, the smoking buses, the old gas guzzlers, the peeling paint, the Colt 45 bottles, the whores, the drug dealers on the streets selling to whites who’d rather see them rot in a jail for their natural lives than to see them come to their own neighborhood. The vacations, the car for little Billy, the Hollywood lifestyle, the corporate executive class, the investment commercials on TV, the Heineken ads.”

The tall young man stepped forward with a leer on his face. It seemed as if he was trying to be an angry young man, but he screwed up his eyes as if he were still a bit short-sighted but thought maybe that a female knockout stood in front of him. “I don’t normally talk to white people. They just wrinkle their hooked noses and act like I smell or something, and then look at me like they’re waiting for me do some blackfaced antic, or turn around and steal them blind. I hate them. And I hate their stupid smugness about their great country as much as I hate their racism. Just stay away from me if you don’t want me telling you the truth.” Then between his teeth: “Goddam racists.” It was powerfully said, but theatrically, and rehearsed.

Unexpectedly, the minister walked behind his actor and put his hands on the young man’s shoulders. “Anger makes you a prisoner of the situation, Daniel. Anger means action and reaction. This is not physics, though. This action and this reaction create a destructive and endless cycle of recrimination. Remember that what gets passed from one individual to another is not the pain, the suffering, the sense of injustice. It’s the anger you’re passing, and anger germinates anger, not compassion, learning, love.” He stepped around the angry man and moved in front of him.

“Our Lord advised his chosen people to turn the cheek. Heaven, he tells us, is reserved for the meek.” He put out his arms and looked upward to dramatic effect. Then: “Is that what we need to help Daniel learn?” A few heads bobbed. His hands dropped. “Not simply, friends, not simply. Anger means the desire for justice. It’s given all the wrong expression here, but even so, it’s better than indifference. Our Lord could tolerate nothing less than indifference. Eternal life comes to those who seek the Lord’s difference. Once you seek, with your eyes open, you can see someone else’s anger for what it is. And you can see your own anger for what it is as well as for what it could be.” He sighed and looked back at a chagrined Daniel, who seemed to think that his performance was being criticized here, who was used to praise and not someone changing the rules on him.