It is interesting to me how much of our lack of understanding about the world is based on assumption. The problem with assumptions really comes into full play when the assumption becomes fact and accepted as truth. Recently, while in Memphis, my husband, John, dropped me off at a local thrift store. He didn’t want to wait around while I hunted for treasures, so he told me he would go back home and I should call him when I was ready to leave. Since we only live a few minutes away, it was no big deal. When I was through shopping, I went outside to call, but it was such a beautiful day, I decided to walk home. It only slightly occurred to me that the neighborhood wasn’t considered the safest, since the area around the thrift store, which is located in a building that houses services for indigent persons, is filled with halfway houses and housing projects. People hanging around on the street corners and high spiked fences and barred windows are the norm. My daughter-in-law always tells me to lock the car doors when I drive through the neighborhood, and my Memphis friends think I am crazy to even go to that part of town at all. But the bright autumn day beckoned me and I began to walk. The trees were putting on a grand show as I crossed the first main street onto Peabody Avenue. Peabody is a street of contrasts. At the west end, it ends or begins at East Street, with rundown body shops and corner rib joints, but as you travel east, the body shops and rib joints make way for Victorian houses that have been converted into offices and public housing, and then as you cross Bellevue, it is as if you entered a different world; stately Victorians and Craftsman mansions, restored to their earlier grandeur, line the street. One block makes all the difference. I felt a little ashamed as I found myself walking a little faster until I crossed Bellevue. Along the way, several people offered a hello or a friendly nod. No one seemed threatening or frightening, yet I sighed a breath of relief when I crossed the magical Bellevue crosswalk.
When I reached home, a neighbor was in her front yard. She asked where I had been and I told her I had walked home from the thrift store on East. She looked at me in shock. “You shouldn’t ever do that again,” she warned. When I told her it was fine, she assured me I didn’t know Memphis. Later that day, I shared my experience with another friend. She laughed and told me about a colleague of hers who happened to be in that same area just a few weeks earlier. It was around 9 p.m. when she left a downtown meeting and decided to take the side streets to the freeway. Just blocks from the freeway, along East Street, she realized she had a flat tire. She pulled over to the side of the road and reached for her cell phone, only to discover that her cell phone was dead and her car charger was in her other car. She saw the lights on at one of the corner rib joints, and a group of men standing around outside. She was terrified. She remembered all the horror stories everyone had ever told her about this area, or any all-black poor area of town for that matter. But what was she going to do? So she said a prayer and walked over to the rib joint to see if there was a pay phone. When she asked for the phone, a few of the men asked her if she needed help. At first she said no and proceeded to go to the phone. One of the men overheard her conversation with the Auto Club and approached her, offering to change her tire. When the Auto Club operator told her it would be up to an hour before a repair truck could reach her, she decided to take a chance and accept the man’s offer for help. The man and several of the others changed her tire and brought her a cup of coffee. Another gave her his cell phone so she could call her husband. When the tire was changed and she offered the men money for their help, they refused and said they just hoped someone would do the same for them or their wives.
The woman then remarked to my friend that from now on she was really going to be a lot more careful about the assumptions she made. The whole situation reminded me of a really unusual set of assumptions that for me resulted in a very important life lesson.
See Part 2