Since I had finally had enough of the squirrel carcasse floating in my wastebasket, I bribed a few neighbor girls to dig a hole under my porch for me. I handed them a shovel and they soon had a nice grave.
(Yes, I am momentarily digressing from the weightier matters of life decisions to tell you about a crossing of cultures.)
It was a beautiful day, and on Brady Street it was a colorful day. A few of my Hispanic neighbor men (relatives of the girls helping me) were out fixing their car. Across the street, the black pastor and his wife who run a ministry in our old club building, were just arriving for the day. Our mostly blind Hispanic neighbor was out walking with his cane. I, the white Mennonite woman, was heading for the flooded wastebasket with a shovel.
“Cross-cultural” is the word we’ve been focusing on at church in a series of sessions on sharing Christ. Just as Christ brought God’s presence to the world, Pastor Berkshire said, so do Christians bring God’s presence to their worlds, no matter who is in that world. But in the presence of language barriers, different skin colors, and diverse cultures, a number of frustrations and confusions can result even when we have great intentions, he said.
But I wasn’t thinking of cultures at the moment. I had a squirrel to bury.
“No one touch this squirrel,” I said to the girls as I marched bravely around my porch.
(No idea how it got there, but it must have fallen in and drowned.)
The squirrel slid onto my shovel easily and, holding it as far away from myself as I could, I carried it, dripping, down the sidewalk.
“What’s that?” The black pastor shouted to me across the street, intrigued.
He’s a big man, with a big voice, one of those who you are glad is on the Lord’s side.
“A squirrel!” I shouted back cheerfully. “Time to take care of it.”
At this moment, the stench hit the girls following me.
“Oh! It stinks!”
They laughed and shrieked, following the trail of water on the sidewalk.
“Ewwww!” I yelled as the stench caught up to me as I tossed the squirrel in the hole.
I hurriedly shoveled dirt, but not fast enough to avoid the smell.
“Ugh! Ewwww!” I shoveled.
The girls shrieked with laughter.
I gave a final shovel and slapped the shovel against the grave with a final loud, “Ewww!”
Suddenly, I heard voices behind me. The girls and I turned. There in the street stood the blind neighbor man and one of the men who had been working on the car.
For a second I wondered if the altercation was a joke. But the mechanic grabbed the blind man’s cane and wrenched it from him.
He raised the cane and struck it against the blind man.
“Hey!” I said, too shocked to yell.
“Hey!” The black pastor bellowed from across the street.
I stepped toward the men uncertainly, unable to follow the heated Spanish, but perfectly clear about the hateful expressions. The mechanic raised the cane again, threatening.
Then, he took the cane and threw it out of the blind man’s reach. It rattled across the street to the curb. I heard him accuse the man of being loco.
“Loco? Loco?!” The blind man hissed.
Then he scrambled for his cane, and the mechanic walked away. The black pastor also went about his work, after making sure the drama was over. Only the girls and the blind man were left beside the street.
I tried to think of something wise to say in Spanish, or even English, but I could think of nothing wise.
“Are you okay?” I finally blurted out to the blind man.
“Estas bien?” The girls asked.
I’ll never forget how the man’s expression changed when he heard the questions. He picked up the cane and walked away quietly.
“Isn’t he blind?” I asked the girls, astonished that our neighbor man would beat him up.
“Mostly,” they said.
I walked over to the mechanics.
“What happened?” I asked.
In a multilingual exchange of his bad English and my worse Spanish, the truth struck me like a blow of the cane.
“He thought we were talking about him?!”
“We were talking about the squirrel!” The girls said.
“I know,” I said sadly. “We should do something nice for him. Do you ever make fun of him?”
“No,” they said. “We like him.”
“He was cursing the men because the children were laughing,” an older translator explained.
What a clash of cultures!
Had the blind man been able to see, it probably wouldn’t have happened. Had he understood English better, it probably wouldn’t have happened. Had there been Christ’s love in either man, it certainly wouldn’t have happened.
But blindness and language barriers and cultural differences and hatred abound, so it happened.
I took him a piece of cake later. But that seemed to make less difference than our ill-informed words, blurted out and insufficient: Are you okay? Estas bien?
It seems that these words cross cultures, perhaps better than the wise comments for which I had been grasping.
May the squirrel rest in peace, undisturbed by neighbor dogs. May I never see it again. May I move on to other topics!
But may we never forget the power of the question, “Are you okay?”