John writes, “Beloved, you are acting faithfully in whatever you do for the brethren, and especially when they are strangers … You do well to send them on in a manner worthy of God; for they began their journey for the sake of Christ.” (3 John 1:5)
There were only three public high schools for black children in the entire state of Florida, but there were several private church-supported schools, the nearest to Daytona Beach being Florida Baptist Academy of Jacksonville. A cousin who lived in Jacksonville told my mother that if I enrolled in the academy, I could live with him and his wife, doing chores around the house in exchange for a room and one meal a day.
When the time came to leave for Jacksonville, I packed a borrowed old trunk with no lock and no handles, roped it securely, said my good-byes, and left for the railway station. When I bought my ticket, the agent refused to check my trunk on my ticket because the regulations stipulated that the check must be attached to the trunk handle, not to a rope. The trunk would have to be sent express but I had no money except for a dollar and a few cents left after I bought my ticket.
I sat down on the steps of the railway station and cried my heart out. Presently I opened my eyes and saw before me a large pair of work shoes. My eyes crawled upwards until I saw before me the man’s face. He was a black man, dressed in overalls and a denim cap. As he looked down, he rolled a cigarette and lit it. Then he said, “Boy, what in hell are you crying about?”
And I told him.
“If you’re trying to get out of this damn town to get an education, the least I can do is to help you. Come with me,” he said.
He took me around to the agent and asked, “How much does it cost to send this boy’s trunk to Jacksonville?”
Then he took out his rawhide money bag and counted the money out. When the agent handed him the receipt, he handed it to me. Then, without a word, he turned and disappeared down the railroad track. I never saw him again. Ω
This encounter so moved him that Thurman dedicated his autobiography “to the stranger in the railroad station who restored my broken dream sixty-five years ago.” Thurman went on to become one of the greatest theologians, educators and activists of the last century, calling on all peoples to create communities which transcended racial and religious barriers. Among many other pieces of work, he wrote a profound book on the effects of racial segregation, humiliation and impoverishment on the human spirit, Jesus and the Disinherited. MLK Jr carried this book wherever he went, and counted it second only to the Bible.
Reflect: When have you experienced the kindness of a stranger? When have you shown a kindness to a stranger yourself? Perhaps you can show a kindness to a stranger today.
What is this? Lent is the 40 days, excluding Sundays, before Easter. Traditionally it is a time of reflection and pilgrimage. To help you on this journey, Sanctuary has put together 40 stories from people both within and beyond the congregation, with associated questions for reflection and prayer. A reading will be uploaded every day of Lent. This year’s theme is Fruit of the Spirit. Why? Read this. #Lent2022. Real People, Real Stories: 40 Readings for Lent © Sanctuary, 2022. From Howard Thurman. With Head and Heart. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1979: 24-25.
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