On the last day of our cruise, we were given colored and numbered luggage tags, along with disembarking places and times. Every detail was covered in our instructions.
Later that evening, after our last dinner and the last entertainment, we were ready to return to our deck and stateroom. We boarded the elevator and joined two African American couples who were headed “up” with us. We said our hellos and scrunched in together for the ride. We were friendly though we had never met. The lady nearest me said, “I don’t know where we’re supposed to wait in the morning before we get off the ship.”
I replied, “It depends on what color you are.” As soon as the words left my mouth, I wished I could retract them and try again. I meant to say, “It depends on what color your luggage tag is.” But alas, I left out a couple of words.
After a nano second, the question lady began to laugh. Then she put her bare arm next to her husband’s for a color check, “I’m lighter than he is,” she declared. The elevator laughter increased a bit.
I put my freckled arm next to hers. “Lighter, darker, or spotted,” I said. Now everyone is enjoying the moment.
Just then, the elevator doors opened on our floor. “I’ve got to go now. This is my floor.” We shared another laugh and I was out of there.
The African American couples are probably still telling the story, just like I am. I imagine them saying to their friends, “You won’t believe what a white woman said to us on the elevator!” And they will laugh again. I’m saying to my friends, “Let me tell you what I did — It’s the worst thing I’ve ever said to anyone. It was a slip of the tongue.”
In that moment of embarrassment and laughter, color comparisons, and misspoken words, we were somehow all the same. Racial differences had no meaning — not there in that elevator, on the cruise ship, at the end of a vacation week.
Our laughter was the voice of forgiveness. It spoke my “I’m sorry” to them and to me it said, “It’s o.k., we know you didn’t mean it.”
But so do laughter and forgiveness and elevator moments.
Until next Tuesday . . .