Walked out to the car at the curb today as a man was going by, pushing a shopping cart. Wool cap pulled way down, almost over his eyes. I nodded at him, the way one acknowledges the presence of a human being.
At once, he explodes, yelling at me, furious. Over and over about “what you did to me” and “how could you do that?” and “arbitration.” Not quite physically coming at me, but it’s a shock. I say what you’d expect, first “What the hell?” and then “Dude, I’m not the guy you’re mad at.” (“The hell you’re not! You know exactly what you did!”)
And I think: Suppose he had a gun. A man in this much rage, sure that the cause of all his suffering is right there in front of him. I’d be dead now. In Australia I wouldn't be dead, but I’d be dead here in America.
After it’s over, I think: OK. This guy’s pushing a shopping cart because of some epic dispute that didn’t go his way. And in his rage he’s not distinguishing his nemesis from others who might look similar. Race, height, shaved head -- who knows what’s enough to be the trigger?
Thing is: He’s not insane. He’s traumatized, but on the other side of that wall he's a fully coherent human being. I can imagine an alternate world in which we’re friendly neighbors. And in a much lesser degree, I’ve been in his place.
And yet, he might have had a gun. And for that reason, I will never again nod to acknowledge the humanness of someone pushing a shopping cart down a street in America. In many other countries, though, I will.