Elevator Encounters

Perhaps God Chose Us to Be the Ones to Face the Rage Because We Know that We Do Not Face it Alone

Sarah Condon / 9.18.20

I have been in two heated race-related situations in the past six months. Both of them have happened at elevators.

Several months ago I was leaving a doctor’s office and looking for the restroom in the corridor. A black man walked out behind me with a name tag and a clip board and I assumed he was a doctor in the practice. I turned and asked him if he knew where the restroom was. He snapped back, “I don’t work here!” To which I responded, “Got it. Sorry.”

Then as he headed towards the elevator and I headed on a hunt to empty my bladder he yelled back, “Stupid white bitch thinks I work here!”

To which I yelled back, “Sorry!”

He did not respond. He got on the elevator, and I found a toilet.

Then just last week we were on a family weekend vacation and were standing at the hotel elevator bank with our children. We had already lectured them about how we cannot go bounding onto elevators with other people. There were signs up about one party per elevator and I was not interested in bringing a corona virus strand back as a souvenir.

The elevator door opened and a young black man was standing there. The kids lurched for the door and we said, “Not this one guys! We’ve got to wait for an empty one!”

And as the doors were closing the man looked my kids and said of himself to their little white faces, “It’s because he’s black.”

It is a hard thing to be called four-letter words in a hallway. But I would take that any day over having to explain to my kids that they had not done anything wrong. “People are hurting,” we whispered, “we didn’t get on the elevator because we aren’t supposed to. Not because he is black.”

I hope they believed us.

Honestly, I was tempted to yell a whole host of other things back during both of these encounters, mostly just desperate, whiny, white lady things: “I listen to NPR! I am anti-racist! I showed up for one Sandra Bland rally! Where is my progressive credit?” But by God’s good grace, the Holy Ghost put a shut up spell on my mouth ideas.

Besides, who could blame these men? I perpetually look like a Young Karen: mom haircut, yoga pants that are never used for actual yoga, and a cell phone at the ready. I am the very portrait of a modern, major, general, white lady jackwagon. Which is basically what the first gentleman was calling me, only with spicier language.

This has been a season in our country when white people are learning just how vulnerable black people are. They are victims of police brutality, mass incarceration, and murder. Their bodies, it would appear, are not “worth” what white bodies are worth. Their children are deemed less valuable and have faced death at the hands of the authorities. It is horrifying. As if that weren’t enough, COVID has hit the black community like a thief in the night.

I do not read these encounters as reverse racism. Honestly, reverse racism always makes me laugh a little as an actual concept. Most white people have that one story, about a black person saying something mean to them, but most black people have several stories, about a terrible education or difficulty getting hired. It’s just not the same thing.

I interpret these elevator encounters as God stepping right into the brutality that is race relations in our country and looking to offer some hope and healing. There could have been any white woman looking for a bathroom in the hallway that day. But it was me. There could have been any family waiting on an elevator at the hotel. But it was our family.

And for some reason, God chose for us to be the people to bear witness in that moment. Maybe we needed to learn something, be more jarred by reality? But I also am struck that we needed to soften our hearts so that we might have a place to hold anger and to bear witness. Perhaps God chose us to be the ones to face the rage because we know that we do not face it alone. We know that all of our sin and racism was nailed to a cross. We know that all of the world’s hurt and rage dies there too. And I find great freedom in that exchange.

Freedom to hear hurt and not to try to make it about me. Freedom to know that Jesus bears my own rage on the cross so he can carry the anger of those who rage against me. I find freedom in knowing that it is Jesus, our promised prince of peace, who will bear it for all of us.

Certainly, I ride elevators these days with my spiritual antenna up a little higher. Some people have a calling behind an altar. Some people are called to a pulpit. I appear to have a calling to fluorescent lit corridors with actual elevator music playing. If it is of any help at all in this important and painful moment, then bring on the Kenny G and let Jesus only open my mouth to speak with humility and love.