Diversity in the supermarket

Originally printed as an editorial in the Christian Science Sentinel

It's New Year's Eve at the Publix on Lejeune Road in my hometown of Miami. Hundreds of jovial Sunday shoppers - carts loaded with tilting mounds of holiday food - converge in a tangle of checkout lines that no one can quite figure out. All this to the beautiful beat of South Florida's trademark blend of accents. Hispanic, French Haitian, Southern US, Yankee US, and who knows what else.

My husband and I plunge into the checkout bottleneck, with ingredients for our family supper - hamburgers, fresh corn, tomatoes. AND a dish of our favorite Cuban dessert, Tres Leches ("Three Milks"), a concoction of custard, cake, and meringue. Time to introduce it to the grandchildren, we say.

Suddenly, there's trouble. A woman screeches at the family ahead of her, "Hey, you butted the line!" And then with a sneer, "We don't do that in our country!"

"Watch it," the family's teenage daughter shoots back at her. "You're taking on the whole Hispanic community."

Instantly, the debate escalates to high-decibel pitch. Silence falls all around. Most of us - veterans of past race riots just blocks away - are savvy about the potential for explosion. We take this seriously. I'm surely not the only one who rushes to God in prayer.

"Oh, God," I think. "Please help us! You're 'Our Father.' Every one of us is Your daughter or son. Show us how to stop what's happening here. Make us feel Your love."

Caught up in prayer, the drama before me fades to surrealness. And I hear again my friend Mir's calm, confident words just this morning in church - speaking about her decades of teaching in a multi-racial school in our community.

"The divisions will all be healed someday - in God's own way," she said. "No one can force it. The one important thing is that we're all God's children. Sooner or later, we're all going to have to realize that."

We're all God's children. Those four short words stand up tall as skyscrapers - right in the middle of the Publix. They speak the simple, undeniable truth about this moment. About this community. About all of us. They swallow up, not just this altercation, but the whole sorrowful history of racial tensions in our city. In our world. They swallow it all up in the unending love of a creator who, in Bible words, "hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth" (Acts 17:26). A creator who made us all one, in His supreme oneness.

Then, a young man steps out from the crowd and speaks earnestly to the woman who has made the ethnic slur. And his words speak for all of us.

"I heard you tell these people 'We don't do this in our country,' " he says. "So I have to ask you - Who is this our you're talking about?"

The woman says nothing.

"Well, I'll tell you," the young man goes on patiently. "Our country belongs to all of us. It belongs to Jews and blacks and Hispanics and Asians and everybody else. It doesn't matter where we come from. And in our country we all respect each other. We honor each other."

Sheepishly, the woman nods. She doesn't apologize, but she stops her accusations. The rest of us thank the young man. My husband and I tell him he's the answer to our prayers.

He shrugs his shoulders. "I couldn't just stand there and do nothing," he says.

Well, Mir is right. We are all God's children - children of the one Mind. And, like Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper, said, "Had all peoples one Mind, peace would reign" ("The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany," pg. 279). Finding this out - in schools, airports, workplaces, churches, supermarkets - is diversity training at its best.

So my husband and I go home and tell the grandkids, with new passion, "Yes, hamburgers and Tres Leches go together just fine!"

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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