Eric Frazier

Bridging the silences between us

I stopped by Target one recent evening on my way home from work. At the checkout line, I walked up behind two 20-something women.

They stood facing the cashier, arms intertwined behind their backs. They toyed absent-mindedly with each other’s fingers, until one woman’s hand dipped below the other’s beltline.

She of the adventuresome palm glanced back to see if anyone noticed. Finding me there, her face flushed with embarrassment and she pulled away. Her partner glanced at her, then followed her gaze back toward me, and laughed lightly.

Her partner sported a nose ring and stylishly curled purplish-blue hair atop a semi-shaved head. She fixed me with an even, challenging gaze that asked: “Do you have a problem with us?”

As she turned to her still-uneasy partner, her smile hardened into a “Don’t you dare be embarrassed” stare.

I had tried to project a hey-no-big-deal air, because these days, it truly isn’t. Perhaps I succeeded, because the first woman suddenly told me, “I like your outfit.”

She couldn’t have cared less about my brown tweed hounds tooth blazer and dad-ly tan chinos. She was just reaching out, trying to bridge the distance with the first small bouquet of goodwill she could find.

I laughed and thanked her, then fumbled for some self-deprecating quip to help her lighten the mood. But her partner laughed, sardonically this time, and turned away.

I thought of them as I considered the anti-discrimination policy City Council is slated to discuss Monday night. It’s a broad anti-bias policy, but protests have erupted around the notion that it would let men who identify as women use women’s restrooms.

If you ask if I’m against discrimination based on sexual orientation or expression, I’d say yes. If you ask if I’m comfortable with anatomical males using women’s restrooms, I’d say not so much. Am I glad I’m not the one voting on the policy? You bet.

This much I do know. I try to live by the biblical imperative to love my neighbor as myself – to not turn away in moments when I’m uncomfortable.

Moments like that night in Target. As a dad with two daughters, I loved how the second woman stood her ground in the face of what she saw as a potentially ugly confrontation.

But there was something even more courageous about the first woman’s reaction. It takes not only guts, but also grace, to be the first to reach out across the uncomfortable silences that separate us.

As I paid for my items and walked out into the evening cold, I wished I had another chance to tell her so.

Eric: 704-358-5145; efrazier@charlotteobserver.com

Related stories from Charlotte Observer

  Comments