Tuesday, April 26, 2011

First, you need that all-important number...

I’m not always really good at being told what to do but I do have a healthy respect for authority. So, when the judge presiding over my divorce (and name change) told me to go to the Social Security Administration first in the process of changing my name everywhere, I listened. Today was the day I went to their offices in Fort Worth…

If you’ve been, you know what it’s like. If not…well, it’s an experience. First of all, there is no receptionist to guide you. Instead, you “check in” at a kiosk (very high-tech touchscreen terminal with a large poster above saying “Check In Here”). A nifty little printer spits out a receipt with your all-important number on it. At this point, you simply need to hang on to your number and find a seat among the rows of seats in the waiting area.

I have a fascination with people, so I took the opportunity to look around at folks in various stages of conversation with those who journeyed with them as well as those who wore a blank mask of boredom on their face. Luckily, someone had left the sports section out of today’s USA Today newspaper. I can’t say it’s the first section I read but it gave me something else to do while I waited for my all-important number to be called out.

I was fairly engrossed in a story about the potential first-round draft pick in the NFL when she came in. I didn’t look up until the strange noises continued…intermittent grunts, unusual utterances. She sat along the wall across from me. The noises erupted sporadically, not really words most of the time, though occasionally a word would come out, but mostly these odd noises. Her clothing was well worn and she didn’t appear to have taken time to groom her hair or adorn her face with cosmetics. She was a rather sad looking older African-American woman.

My first thought, and this is a rather embarrassing stereotype, was that she was homeless and simply looking for a comfortable place to sit. I can’t verify that but I don’t think I was too far off the mark.

It was odd, to me anyway, but two other, separate African-American women became annoyed with her. Perhaps they understood her utterances better than I did. The younger one approached her and asked if she had the ticket with the all-important number on it. The older woman became slightly agitated and said she “didn’t want to talk to no one.” Rather than take her seat and let her be, the younger woman approached one of the workers who came out to call one of the all-important numbers and pointed her out. The worker informed her that the older woman was there every day. Not satisfied, the younger woman went out into the hall to summons security (keep in mind we are in a federal building). In a few minutes, 3 security guards came in to check out the situation and the younger woman (who had moved clear across the room) pointed her out. They approached her, questioned her, and finally demanded that she get a ticket (with the all-important number on it) in order to remain in the waiting room. She did. And they left.

Meanwhile, a middle-aged African American woman, sitting halfway between me and the older woman, who had watched all of this as intently as I had, started fussing. Just a little, not real loud, not really trying to make a scene but just enough so the older woman would hear her. One of the comments she made to her was, “Jesus knows what you’re doing and it isn’t right.”

Hmmm. I wonder. I mean, I don’t doubt that Jesus knew what was happening, what was going on with that older woman as well as the rest of us. But what part wasn’t “right”? Was it that the older woman found a safe, comfortable place to sit or was it that she in some ways disturbed the other people waiting their turn? Or was it the lack of mercy shown her by those who would rather have her tossed out? Or was it me, for sitting there and watching and keeping my mouth shut and not stepping in to stand by someone who very likely counted as “the least of these.”

My all-important number was called. I got my name changed. And then I left. I’m afraid Jesus knew what I was doing and it wasn’t right…