When we realize, "We are not alone," fears can be transformed by the presence of kind strangers.
We are not alone.
I remember the day that these words took on new meaning for me.
I was on an almost empty subway, in the middle of the day, when an easily identifiable White supremacist got on the train. He was carpenter with a hammer hanging from his utility belt, a body inked with hateful symbols, and a toolbox full of threatening things. As soon as he got on the train, I started to plan my exit. I’ll get off at the next stop…but so will he (it was the terminal). I’ll stay on the train, but so might he. I’ll press the emergency strip, but then we will be trapped together. I’ll make myself look intimidating, but that might provoke him. I was a Black woman who was about to be trapped in a tunnel for about two and a half with a bigoted White man armed with multiple weapons.
I remember thinking, Is this how I die?
I did not want to give him the satisfaction of my fear, but despite myself, I was scared. In my lifetime, I have seen so many pictures of mutilated Black bodies, heard so many terrifying stories about hate groups, and been told so many cautionary talks that the fear is always there—at the ready. I was afraid of becoming one of those stories that parents tell their children of colour: “Don’t go on the subway at midday in a train without a driver; remember the story of Alydia….”
I was close to tears when an elderly man of colour, whom I had not noticed up until that point, stood in front of me and blocked my view of the carpenter. He said something like, “Don’t worry, there are more of us than there are of him,” but what I heard and felt was, “Don’t be afraid, you are not alone.” He lent me some of his confidence with his presence. The camaraderie I felt sitting in his shadow gave me the courage to look beyond the fear that used to be in front of me. I saw that there were others on that subway train who were giving knowing and encouraging smiles and nods. Suddenly, instead of plotting ways to escape, I was looking for ways to protect the beautiful people around me.
Two and a half minutes later, I left that train with my fears transformed by the presence of kind strangers. Perhaps it was a small glimpse of what those first apostles felt when Jesus appeared to them while they were fearfully hiding in an upper room. The knowledge of Jesus’ presence gave them the courage to unlock the door and share the good news anyway, despite the dangers that lurked on the other side.
Form that day on, every time I recite the first lines of A New Creed, I say, “We are not alone” but I hear in my heart, “Do not be afraid.”
And for this I say, “Thanks be to God.”
—Alydia Smith is Program Coordinator, Worship, Music, and Spirituality at the General Council Office. This article was originally published in Gathering magazine, Lent - Easter 2018.
2018 marks the 50th anniversary of The United Church of Canada's A New Creed. What speaks to you in this affirmation of faith?