One of the most humbling times in my life occurred in Court.
Philadelphia Police Sgt. Washington motioned to me that he wanted to talk. This was odd, I represented the “other side” as public defender whose client was the defendant charged in an auto theft case. Washington was the arresting police officer whose testimony would insure a conviction.
“You from Philadelphia?” this muscular African-American police officer asked me in a quiet tone. Another case had been called to the bar of the Court and we stood in the audience away from the attorney tables.
“I grew up in Philly, North Philly. Why?” I said, wondering what I had done wrong. Always get that feeling when talking with police. Old Catholic guilt, I guess.
“We used to live on the same block,” he said, and taught me something I hope I never forget.
“You helped me learn how to read.”
I was taken back. Looking closer at this man, I tried but failed to recognize him. I searched memory banks of the homes I lived at, and the friends I had both in and out of school. No luck.
Until, the sergeant mentioned Marston St. — 1434 N. Marston St. , to be exact. Less than a block away from St Ludwig’s Roman Catholic Church and elementary school. “You’re that Washington?” I said, as a beam of light shone and I remembered a skinny little Black kid who would sit on the steps outside the house as I did my “extra” homework for my Third Grade teacher, a nun who was forcing me to learn the “Palmer Method” of handwriting. My handwriting was so bad, this senile Franciscan nun with the thickest pair of bifocals I had ever seen, thought she could improve it through repetitive scrawling on my part . She was wrong. About the “hand-writing.” (Maybe she saw something in my “writing” that she wanted to straighten out before I’d get the chance to utter something blasphemous or profane in the eyes of God? Could she see into my future?)
I’d handwrite one letter after another, trying my best not to bend my wrist but allow each symbol to evolve with a fluid motion. Got that? Well, neither did I. One of the purposes of the Palmer Method was to help someone to write and write some more without tiring out the hand, or causing the repetitive strain we see computer typists suffering from today.
But there I was, my legs drawn up, back hunched over a loose-leaf folder, scribbling away as the young Washington fellow approached and asked what I was up to. I showed him, try to explain it, and welcomed the chance take a break from such tedious work. At some point, he must have brought out his homework and I remember going over it with him. Hey, I was pretty smart as a Third-Grader. Had no interest in girls or sports and had the fear of God instilled in me by fearless nuns I hardly ever had time or the inclination to sin. I studied. The alternative could have been hell.
I must have helped the fellow who was some two years younger than me. We’d meet outside my house day after day, him with his reading book and me with my writing one. I enjoyed helping him. I see now that he may have gotten more out of the excursions than anyone would think possible. I helped him realize he had the ability within to read.
He helped me to realize that actions, no matter how small, could have an immensely unproportional effect on another. And I felt humbled when the Universe enlightened me of this karmic cause and effect.
The courtroom case was continued for some reason, and I shook hands with Sgt. Washington hoping our paths would cross again. They will, If the cause and conditions arise for us again.