Walking along the boardwalk listening to people talk, I am amazed at the numbers of languages spoken here in Portugal. I am just nosy enough to want to know what everyone is saying, and whether they are words of joy, love, fear, or anger. What is comforting for me is that until people start to speak, we all seem the same. Admittedly, I am somewhat of an anomaly, as I have seen less than 20 blacks in three days here, but even then, I am floored when the blacks I see speak a different language. But, what is beautiful is that there are some gestures that transcend language and unite our spirits and hearts, and that is a smile.
People everywhere understand a smile as a gesture of acceptance and goodwill. In the South where I live, people habitually smile at each other and say hello as they pass each other out walking. You don’t have to know the person to get a smile out of them. I remember the first time Douglas went for a walk with me in Tennessee, as we passed people of all colors, I greeted people with a smile and a hello. Looking perplexed, Douglas asked me if I knew them, and I said no. I further stated, “But in the South, we smile and speak, even if we do not like you. It is called Southern hospitality.”
In California where Douglas grew up, this was not a part of the culture. Yet, he caught on quickly, and now when we walk at home, Douglas gives a hearty “Howdy, folks” to everyone we meet. Some speak back, and some don’t. I have better radar for the person is is not likely feeling my smile, and I simply do not force myself on them.
Well, it is the same here in Portugal, only this time, I am the one learning that people simply don’t greet strangers with a smile. I was just a grinning at everyone I passed, and after a while, I realized that this is not a part of the culture here. It is not that they are being unfriendly, it is just not something they have practiced or been taught.
So, bless my heart, when this morning I, forgetting not to put forth my Cheshire grin (see above in the picture), smiled at a woman and she smiled back. Her grin was as wide as mine, and I cannot tell you how wonderful it made me feel, We connected on a heart level and, what was so captivating, was the look of surprise on her face when I smiled at her. She was not expecting it, but it brought her joy and she returned the favor.
Our race was not an issue, and I thought of the wonder of the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman found in John 4. His disciples were surprised to return and find Jesus talking to a woman, much less a Samaritan, but, you see, Jesus saw her humanity, not her race. They connected on the spiritual level, and that is what happened this morning.
That woman did not see my race, just my humanity. I needed that affirmation that there is one race, the amazing human race, especially after yesterday at the grocery store here in Portugal. As I entered the store, I saw the store security, two males, look at me, and the older one said something to the younger one. The younger one then proceeded to follow Douglas and me through the store, never letting me out of his sight. I thought that maybe my pacemaker had set off an alarm and that was the trouble, but the alarm did not go off as I left, as I was panicked it would and I would end up in jail a long way from home.
I wished that I could speak the language, for I would have told him that I was just another tourist trying to get provisions for my visit, and that I was uncomfortable being followed. I was a nervous wreck by the time we left the store, and I kept telling Douglas that he could come back alone for other things, because the guy following me and looking at me was too much to bear. I deal with this at home in some stores, and I guess I hoped that here race would not be enough of an issue for me to be made to feel less than human.
So, the smiling lady will never know that she affirmed my belief that God made us all equals, no one race superior and no one race inferior. I tried smiling at the young security man yesterday, but that may have sent his radar into overdrive, confirming that I was up to no good. But, I will not let that one act ruin the trip for me or color my decision on whether to move here or not, mainly because just as love is part of the human race, so is fear of the unknown, and stereotypes abound among people viewed as different. I decided that I just have to realize that race is still a powerful concept around the world, and that I will meet this type of behavior anywhere I go where I will be in the minority.
The human race is amazing, but people are also the product of their culture and upbringing. I will relish the times of camaraderie when race is bypassed between peoples and me. And I will pray to God my gratitude that race will not be an issue in His kingdom, for Revelations 7:9 states, “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” That will be a hallelujah moment, and I just believe that there will be smiles enough to go around, and that everyone’s hearts will be filled with love for each other and for the precious Lamb of God.