As they gazed at Hope, their daughter, Maura and Jose’s feeling of calm and assurance was dispelled as a shadow passed over them. The unexpected shadow brought their attention back to the present. Simultaneously their faces turned and looked up. Standing in front of them, both in the light and crowned by it, was the imposing figure of a man.
Before them stood an African-American man, easily six feet tall, wearing a long leather trench coat. On his head was a black knit hat, covering most of his forehead. At first glance there seemed to be a hardness to his face. Maybe it was the small scar on his right cheek, barely noticeable, but a little bit pink in the cold. He wore black leather gloves. His right hand was raised breast high with palm open, thumb bent. His coat was slightly open, so they could see that he wore a black turtle neck sweater. Around the neck of the sweater was a large, gold chain with a gold cross attached. His black cuffed dress slacks and black shoes were noticeable as they extended below the hem of his coat.
Jose’s instantaneous thought was defense. He was sure that no one big and black, standing in front of him in the middle of the night, could be up to any good. Jose had seen enough turf battles in his day to be leery of strangers. Jose’s was an automatic distrust built up over the years, fed more by rumor and stories, than by personal experience. Ever since his arrival in the States he had been warned by other Mexicans to avoid the unpredictable and often violent African-Americans. With fear running through his body, Jose began to stand, preparing to put himself between the stranger and Maura.
Maura had had few encounters with African-Americans, having grown up in a fairly wealthy area of Connecticut. For the most part those people could not afford to live in her town. Even if they could afford to live there financially, most African-Americans felt out of place, and unwanted, in such communities. So Maura’s initial reaction, upon seeing him, was to instinctively draw Hope closer to herself, attempting to protect her.
Before they could speak they heard the man, with his hand still raised, say, “Fear not.”
Jose heard the two words and almost allowed himself a sneer. Fear not? he questioned to himself. I find myself in a run-down part of Springfield, Illinois, and a stranger, a black man, tells me not to be afraid. Being afraid is what has kept me alive. Simply being approached by you, a stranger, is reason enough to be fearful.
Maura was confused by his words. But, as she studied him a bit more, she saw a kindness in his eyes that she had not expected. His words had sounded almost like a command, yet there resonated more in the baritone voice than just command. There was a kindness and a gentleness to be heard. There was also an air of confidence about him. Perhaps it was how he stood before them – so certain, so calm.
Editor’s note: Check back here tomorrow for the next installment in Rev. Bill Sterritt’s modern adaptation of the nativity story. RI Future is serializing Sterritt’s 26-page short story throughout the holiday season. Here’s my post on the Amicable Congregational Church’s nativity story and scene.