On Monday I finished up work at Dupont Circle, took the Metro to Chinatown, and hopped the X2 down H Street. It's an articulated bus, and it's crowded, so I found myself moving all the way to the back before I could find a place to stand. We're riding down the street, and I'm in a group of middle and young high schoolers being pretty obnoxious. Shouting, bad singing, pushing each other around a little bit. Whatever, you know? I was an obnoxious teen once, too, so I ignore them and look at my phone.
But as I'm standing there, reading, a hand slaps my hand. Really hard. I turn around and look -- everyone's sitting there, acting like nothing happened. Again, whatever. I give them the knock-it-off look and turn around. But within thirty seconds, another hand reaches out and snatches what is clearly a hand-made knitted hat off of the girl sitting next to me. I turn around, and she turns around and stands next to me.
"Give me back my hat, please."
"I don't got it."
"You took my hat. One of you has my hat."
I chime in: "Guys, not cool. Just give her back her hat."
Nothing. And nothing turns into giggling, and the situation escalates. Meanwhile, all of the other adults are doing their best to ignore what's happening.
"What are you going to do, call the cops? You can't call the cops over a stupid hat."
"Please give her the hat back."
And so it goes, for five minutes, around and around and around. We are asking nicely, looking under the seats to see if they dropped it while passing it to one another, anything that is actually within our power to do. At this point I should mention that I'm wearing a clerical collar. I can't exactly cuss these kids out, or throw a screaming fit. We reach a stalemate, and it's my stop. I apologize to the girl whose hat was stolen, and I get off the bus, kicking myself.
What could I have done better? They're just kids, and it was just a hat. But I was still mad. I could have lied to them about who I was or who I knew. Or pretended to (or actually) called the cops. Or hurled insults at them. Or started taking pictures of them with my phone. Or started screaming my head off and made the bus driver stop. But none of those options would have gotten to the root of the problem, which was they were in it to show how cool they were to their friends by pissing off the white ladies.
And then, walking home, I remembered the Gospel reading from the day before, which were the Lukan Beatitudes. ("Beatitudes" means "blessings" and it is the list that Jesus rattles off before giving some of his most powerful moral teachings.) I had stood in the middle of my congregation the day before, and proclaimed to 100 people, "If anyone take away your coat, do not withhold from them your shirt." I could have directly applied this to my life the VERY NEXT DAY and I missed it. Yikes. How thick am I?
I realized that the only possible way out of that would have been to surprise them. They were expecting anger and yelling and negative attention. What they wouldn't every have expected would have been for me to turn around ask if they were cold, and would they like my gloves, or my scarf, or my jacket? How about my sweater? It might not have worked. I might have ended up giving away all of those things and not getting her hat back. It would have been crazy, but it would have been a thought provoking, creative, and moral response. Maybe next time I'll get it.