When I was in college, I got help from three black men, at different times and in different places. Each time the help was merciful. It was more than I could pay for, more than I deserved.
On my first flight home from college, I didn’t understand how checked baggage works. I got off the first of two flights and instead of going to my connection gate, I went down to the baggage claim. I thought I had to get my bag there, and then check it in again for the second flight. Of course my bag never came. I missed the second flight. I went to a ticket agent to ask what to do. He could have told me that missing the second flight was my fault and that I had to pay a change fee. But he just looked out at the tarmac and wordlessly rebooked me on the next flight.
Later I developed a hobby of breaking into buildings late at night and going up as far as possible. From the roofs of Georgetown’s buildings, you can see the center of Washington: The monuments, the avenues, the Potomac. A beautiful sight; and I loved to sit on a roof at night and watch the city. One night I was making my way up the fire escape of the Jesuit Residence when a voice called me back down again. It was Campus Police. The officer took me down to the station. He sat me down and talked to me as he filled out a form. After a while, the officer told me that God loved me and that I would be alright. He gave me the form and sent me away. There was no follow-up from the police.
In Fall of 1984, the Detroit Tigers were in the World Series. After four games, the Tigers had a 3-1 lead and one more home game, Game 5. They could clinch at home. On the morning of Game 5, I walked out of my GRE test at Georgetown and directly into a cab, which took me to the airport for a flight home. I met my brother and some friends and he drove us down to a bar in the center city to watch. The Tigers won. It was raining. There was a riot. At first it was fun, but it started to get ugly. I didn’t want to go home, so I separated from my group. After awhile, though, it really was time to go. I had $15. I went to a public phone I couldn’t get through to any cab company. I saw a cab, though, and asked if he would take me back to the suburbs for $15. He let me in. As we were leaving on Woodward Avenue, he pointed to a group of young black men and said “They’re up to no good now.” The cabbie drove me all the way out for just $15.
I often think about these men and I’m grateful for what they did for me. Three kings, they set a model of mercy I’m still hoping to match.