“Are you the black pervert whose been stalking me? I’m ready for you this time!”
The speaker was a very round white woman in her late forties or early fifties who, like me, always dresses monochromatically (she in white, I in black), and who, unlike me, always carries a thin plastic grocery bag stuffed with I don’t know what. She’s new to the forest through which I walk every morning, but we’d seen each other three times over the past three days. This was the first time she had spoken to me. It was not the first time I have been mistaken for a black man.
Last week while visiting my parents in Agawam, Massachusetts, my mother, seeming out of nowhere, but which I now think was a near-death confession, told me that when I was a baby people routinely mistook me for African American. Of course no one used that term back in the 1950s.
“I would be pushing you in your stroller,” my mother said, “and people would stop and say, ‘Oh, my, what a cute little colored boy.’ It was true, you were so dark that you looked like a black boy.”
This was a stunning revelation, and I knew it was true: I am black. I had always known I was black. Not just because I like the blues and gospel music; or because my dad is so white that he could pass for an albino; or because he and I are so unalike that there is no way he could be my biological father, but because being black explains why I am obsessed with imitating black preachers, and why I cried inconsolably when Eddie Murphy dressed up as an old Jewish man in The Nutty Professor.
“I’m not black,” I lied to the white woman with the plastic bag.
“Alright, officer, I’ll be careful,” she said deciding that if I wasn’t black I must be a police officer. “But I have this with me just in case!” She reached into the slash pocket in her skirt, and pulled what was sure to be a 22-caliber revolver. My first reaction was to recite the Shema: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” This is what Jews are supposed to say at the moment they die. Then I remembered I was black, and my mind searched franticly for something black people might say at that same moment. All I came up with was Martin Luther King’s “I Had A Dream" speech. Fortunately she was unarmed, and pulled out a Sprint cell phone instead.
“You keep safe,” I said and turned back to my walk.
“Jesus keeps me safe,” she said.
I love Jesus, and I love people who love Jesus, and I just couldn’t let this moment pass. So a turned back to face her, and right there in the 88-degree heat and near 100% humidity this woman in white and this man in black stood in prayer. "Yes, He does!" I shouted, no longer the middle-aged white Jew but rather the now grown up little black boy in the stroller who had devoted his life to Jesus, "Yes He does!" And the two of us prayed and prayed and came to Jesus.
She seemed genuinely touched that a lonesome black pastor would seek her out in the woods to pray to Jesus. And I found it somehow comforting to hear her call to me over her shoulder as we walked away from one another, "I'm ready for you next time, you black pervert!"