February 10, 2014 by Isaac Hovet
Having completed a 6 mile run in the February sun of LA, I was sitting, dripping and cooling down in the shade.
Traffic passed. And one BMW with it’s top down blitzes by, carelessly hurtling through an intersection, changing lanes and out of sight.
Pudgy. Pants drooping. Trudging along the sidewalk with a sandwich in a bag. He looks to be 15 or 16. I can see him on many a couches, playing video games and eating Doritos.
His name is Dakota.
He doesn’t look up.
He’s almost passed me and I am compelled to say hello. He pauses, squints down at me and returns my hello.
He doesn’t move on, so I ask, “How’re you today?”
Turning back towards the intersection just accosted by the BMW, he responds with urgency in his hesitating, growly voice, “Fine, except for the crazy guy there! Did you see that? If I had been walking across, he woulda killed me!”
Yes, I acknowledged. “That was nuts.”
There is a pause. He shuffles one way and then the other. I spend time with a lot of different sorts of people and I can tell that Dakota is slow of mind. Now that I have gently interrupted his walk home, he is processing what to do next.
He peers down the street and points to another crosswalk and tells me of someone who was severely injured by a car on this road. It was his friend who failed to look both ways.
But, the most important part of the story to Dakota: how his friend’s mom berated his friend for being careless while he was being airlifted away.
“That wasn’t fair! That didn’t help anything!” He said. No, it didn’t.
He told another story of a knifing the year prior. A random act of violence. He then boasted of the rumor (“I’ll be honest, this is a rumor!”) that the victim was tough and demanded only bandaids from the paramedics to patch up his stabbed neck.
Another pause. I can tell he is thinking about what to say next. It’s almost as if he is practicing learned social behavior on me. He asks, “so, do you live around here?”
No, I’m visiting from Oregon. “We’ve got some crazy weather that is keeping me down here.”
Dakota turns his head, thinking hard. “I used to live in the mountains. It was either snowing or we had droughts. It was nuts!” He replied, using my phrase from before.
I can tell Dakota wants to move on, but he needs help ending the conversation. I offer an inquiry that provides a natural transition, “Are you walking home to have lunch?”
I stand up and tell him, “It was nice to meet you, enjoy your lunch.”
He takes a step away and then slowly turns, “And, good luck on your trip back to Oregon.”
Thank you Dakota.
There is a lot to learn about humanity in every interaction. Dakota reminded me that even the simplest minds understand truth (rumor), justice (BMW) and kindness (friend’s mom). In just 5 minutes, I relearned the power of human connection and the hard work it can be to connect with others. He asked me questions and reciprocated my kind initiation.
Have you slowed down lately and given place for a meaningful conversation? Have you learned from a stranger? Have you taken the time to observe God’s image in others?
A simple “hello” is a good place to start.