Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I may have learned as much or more about life, in that little candy store, as I did in the classroom

A good motivation is what is needed: compassion without dogmatism, without complicated philosophy; just understanding that others are human brothers and sisters and respecting their human rights and dignities. That we humans can help each other is one of our unique human capacities.
-H. H. The Dalai Lama

Ike and Jerry's candy store.

As a High School kid of sixteen I worked in a candy story in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn and I think I may have learned as much or more about life, in that little candy store, as I did in the classroom. One instance comes to mind. Of the two owners Ike and Jerry, Ike was smooth and always smiled and was liked by everybody, but Jerry was deep with an edge to him and when you peeled back the veneer he was someone worth talking to.

Jerry and I became friends, as much as one could be friends with a man thirty years your senior. After a few months working in the store, usually the late shift Friday and Saturday night I got to know Jerry and he would share his insights. Jerry as much as I could tell didn't have an easy life and he was scarred by it, but there was a deep recess somewhere within him that hid his personal pain, a wonderful sense of humor and compassion for his fellow man. The face he showed the world was not the face that I saw. Some nights after closing we would sit on the step of the store and talk. I like to listen to people and hear their insights, and Jerry did not lack for insights. He could be edgy and impatient with people and cut people short but during these moments when the day was done and the store was closed he would talk of life, dreams and the hopes he had and his disappointments of which he had many.

This was in the early sixties and America was a less tolerant place and racial discrimination was the accepted norm across the land, although less overt in the north. Jerry told me how he had once had a fight because a black man, a customer, was being abused by a white man and Jerry went to his customers defense and a fight resulted. Jerry didn't think much about it but told me the story and what came through was a sense of decency that transcended race. He also talked about immigrants and he taught me that they have always been with us and that they are the exploited class. We use them until they can rise above their humble status and then the next group comes along seeking the American dream to fill the vacancy and do the menial work and fill the factories with low paid, often unskilled labor. Jerry had compassion for these people. I often wonder what Jerry would say today about the illegal immigrants from Mexico and the controversy surrounding them today. I like to think his compassion and his big heart would encompass them and understand their plight. I don't think that Jerry would condemn them for breaking America's law and stealing into America for a better life for their families. The law is not always right or equitable as we have seen countless times in American history. Thinking back to that time I can thank Jerry, for he taught me to see all immigrants struggling to survive as new Americans that would contribute to the greatness of America as all immigrant groups have done throughout the history of our great nation.

Blog Alert! Worth a read.


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