I found myself at the beach, the place I always go to soothe my soul. My soul definitely needed some soothing this morning--I had just discovered my car had been broken into.

Nothing of value was taken really, except my happiness. Someone, probably teenagers, had broken in and tried to steal the vehicle. When they couldn't, they ransacked it, emptying the glove box and strewing its contents all over the front seats. CDs were all over the back seat and floor, but only a few were missing. They took the part of me that was like them—the part that enjoyed the same music.

The incident was the second time in less than a year that someone had invaded my space and taken something that belonged to me. The first time, they broke into my home and stole all of my electronics. I had managed to live my entire 45 years without experiencing something that some people in our society live in fear of every single day. I was shocked at the depth of my sadness over the incident and felt as though something far more important than my stereo had been stolen.

This time, however, I wasn't sad, I was angry. It came pouring out of me. I found myself thinking horrible thoughts about the person or persons who broke into my car. I was directing my anger toward a group of people unrelated in to the thugs who broke into my car, similar only in the color of their skin.

Since I live in a mostly black neighborhood, I assumed--without proof--that the perpetrators were black. But as I headed east from Richmond on Interstate 64, I refused to give in to the prejudicial thoughts crowding my mind. I needed the beach. Thankfully, I was going to stay with a friend who lived across the street from the ocean's shore.

So that's where I was on this early Saturday morning. I had been sitting on a dune watching the sun rise as the tide receded. As I meditated, I released the anger that had invaded me. I prayed and asked forgiveness for the darkness that had crowded my heart and mind. Peace returned once more to my soul.

I rose and headed back down the public access path that led from a convenience store. He was standing on the landing of the wooden steps ahead of me--a black man of undeterminable age, wearing a white t-shirt, jeans, and a black nylon do-rag.

Peace was in my heart, soul, and mind. I smiled as I approached him. He smiled back and said, "Good morning." When I greeted him the same way, he asked if I had been meditating.

I answered that I had, and he nodded. We began a conversation that lasted nearly an hour and reminded me once more of the importance of an open mind.

When I first saw him, I thought he was probably in his mid to late 20's, and my brain began to try to quantify him. Without effort, without cause, I jumped to conclusions that were far from the reality of who this person was.

My background in human resources has given me the ability to ask questions that quickly tell me a good deal about a person; it's called behavioral interviewing. I do it without even thinking. I've gotten to know some amazing people in a very short timeframe, and each has become a thread in the fabric of my life.

As we talked, I learned the man's name was Ronnie; he was originally from Louisiana; had lived in several different parts of the country, including a few months in Utah with his sister; he worked as a mechanic; was married and had two children, a son and daughter.

He wasn't in his 20’s as I had believed. His son was a freshman on a football scholarship in a nearby state. Ronnie spoke with pride of his son’s accomplishments in school and on the playing field, and with concern over whether he was ready to handle the responsibility of being on his own. I knew the two were close, and without saying it, he told me in so many ways that he was struggling with his son leaving for school.

I shared with him my anguish over my own son's departure for college, and we talked about the fear of letting children go into the world and the challenge of learning to be something other than a parent. We discussed the differences in people in various parts of the country and how some places just aren't as welcoming and courteous as the Deep South. I listened as he expressed my own belief that the difference in adults is how people are raised as children.

Here he was, the antithesis of the stereotype of young black men who shirk parental responsibility or commit crimes. His presence reminded me of the danger of assumptions, prejudices, and profiling. Every day brings so much information to us as we rush through our lives; we must somehow compartmentalize and file it into already formed thoughts, many brought to us by the media.

Therein lies the real danger: the more we stereotype the people with whom we come in contact, the less connected we are to humanity. We are each individuals and deserve to be judged by the sum of our actions, not the actions of those who came before us. If we are to save ourselves from destruction, we must first seek to find commonalities with those we think are different. Once we establish that base, we can begin to embrace the differences that make us each a unique work of God.

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