I have a dear friend I met through work (obliquely – he’s not an employee) named Bobby. We soon discovered that we’re kindred spirits, despite the fact that we have almost nothing in common: I work in an office, he’s a firefighter and EMT; I’m almost 30, he’s almost 50; I’m white, he’s black; I’m Mormon, he’s nondenominational Christian. But on those happy, rare occasions when our schedules align for lunch, we have hours-long, reflective conversations about a wide range of topics including religion, politics, current events, feminism, and racial injustice. His stories often make me cry (once I’m safely back at home – I’m not a public crier), like his retelling of the time an elderly white woman, in middle of a heart attack, screamed for her purse and clutched it tightly with both hands after Bobby stepped in to perform a life-saving maneuver on her.
But the biggest gut punch I’ve had from him lately wasn’t an anecdote on racial tension. 15 years ago, he worked as a corrections officer inside a prison. Two years after he changed jobs, he was leaving a bar late one night and heard someone shout his name from across the darkened parking lot. As the figure approached, Bobby realized with sudden dread that it was one of his previous inmates. Afraid for his safety but trying to act casual, he opened his truck door and leaned against the driver’s seat, placing his hand on the pistol stowed underneath. The man walked quickly up to him with a stoic expression on his face and…pulled Bobby in for a crushing, overly-long bear hug, repeating how glad he was to see him again, and thanking him profusely for treating him with respect when he was in prison.
Bobby has never carried a gun since.