Over the past twelve hours, I have watched my kids play with their friend who came to our home for a sleepover. My wife and a friend went out for a drink. And my buddy Mitch and I worked out together and talked about the election and the state of the States.
My children’s friend is from a family whose parents and grandparents voted for Trump. My wife’s friend voted for Trump. Mitch did not vote for Hillary or Donald. My wife and I voted for Clinton. By the time you have read this you likely have already decided something about everyone mentioned just above. I believe this because I suffer from this same affliction. I wrote this article to help me understand the folly of my ways. I hope this story inspires you to see things differently, too.
My guess is that after reading the second paragraph your thoughts did not travel to, “It is great that kids are having fun in a comfortable home.” You probably did not think that we are fortunate to live in a place where two people can safely go out to talk and laugh over glasses of wine. Maybe after reading about Mitch you thought he did not fulfill his free-world duty or that you didn’t blame him for not voting for either one. I wonder if you noticed that two friends helped make ourselves better by positively pushing each other, or that we were trying to make the world better by just listening.
Odds are, like me, you focused on a narrow band of the person you got a glimpse of and, like me, could not understand how someone could possibly have voted that way. So, here is an idea. Actually, here is my plea.
Just for a moment, let’s be still.
I remember rowing a raft a few years back on the Wild and Scenic Rogue River, in Oregon. On the second night of the trip, a storm packing 90 mile per hour winds and horizontal rain blew through our camp. Tents were knocked over, 100 year-old towering pine trees snapped all around us, and we hurried to the camp kitchen in the middle of the night to put all of the gear on the ground and cover it with tarps so it would not blow away.
In pitch blackness we returned to the tents that remained standing and tried to go back to sleep. It was impossible. Five thousand-pound trees shattering all around leaves you with only two things to do: close your eyes and hope for the best. There was no escaping this maelstrom. There was nowhere to go to get out of the darkest of nights and craziest of storms. I lay awake tossing and turning in my thoughts, believing that my world may be coming to an end, crashing down all around me.
Morning broke with lots of good news. All the camp gear was still there, no one had been crushed, and the sun rolled in behind the mist. My river friends and I were safe and glad to be alive. We were glad to be alive. Because I had an appointment the next day I had to leave my friends after breakfast. They were going to take their time floating the rest of the river and spend one more night. I headed downriver in my raft, all by myself. As I rowed through a narrow all I could hear was the sound of the oar blades breaking the river’s surface and canyon wall rivulets whispering into the river. The peace completely contrasted with the powerful devastation of the night before. And even with a couple of rapids coming up around the corner, just for this moment all was still.
Two days after the election my good friend and musician Joe Fred emailed me a Head and the Heart cover song he had just recorded.* The lyrics are:
“I can get lost in the music for hours, honey, I can get lost in a room.
I can play music for hours and hours, but the sun will still be comin’ up soon.
When the world is spinning a little too fast, it will slow down for we are meant to last.
We’re tearin’ down so we can rebuild, and in this moment the future is feeling fine.
So just for a moment, let’s be still. Just for a moment, let’s be still.”
Just for a moment, let’s be still. Let’s stop arguing. Let’s stop fighting. Let’s stop assuming that someone is an ass or someone else is an idiot.
Just for a moment, let’s just listen. Let’s just relax. Let’s be still.
I have never lost a job as a steelworker or a coal miner. I have never been treated differently because I was black. I have never known the challenges of being a single parent. But I have been desperately in debt and out of work. I have been surrounded by gangs that wanted to beat the crap out of me just because I was different. And I was raised by a single mom who juggled it all. So, like each and every one of us, I can understand what someone else might be feeling, if I try to.
We don’t need to blame each other for the mess we have created. We are each other. We don’t need to point at someone else and say he or she is the problem. I am part of the problem. We do need to recognize that there is big money to be made in a divided society. Think war machines. Think two homes per family. Think greater media profits when viewership is up because of sensationalist news. It is vitally important to be aware of the power and desires of these industries. But don’t assign blame there, either. By default or demand, we support the media. We fuel lobbyists with the economy we make. We elect those who are making decisions for us. We are them. We can change them by changing us.
It’s possible that we have reached a breaking point. We did as a union just before the Civil War. We did as a country when civil rights differences and the Vietnam War tore us apart. While violently painful and scarring, we came through these events and many more like them not unscathed but at least more understanding. To come out right side up and on the other side of this hell, history needs to repeat itself. The vast majority of us need to focus on what we have in common, leading more with our hearts than our heads.
It’s possible that we can’t repair the damage done from this election, where “free” speech allowed kids and young adults and parents and senior citizens trashing each other without even listening to what anyone had to say. In this case, free speech came with a cost. My gut tells me we are not at a breaking point but we are certainly at an intersection. Where do we go from here? I don’t know, but I pray it is somewhere together. How do we get there? I am not sure, but I think I know where we need to start.
Rivers have a way of turning out calm. Rapids can toss and turn over a raft, but below every rapid is a stretch of quiet water. Storms can rile up a waterway until it is unrunnable, but then the storm passes. Time and distance on a river means you will end up moving peacefully to your destination. A journey is made by this, made of old and new friends who marvel at what we all see and feel: the beauty of where you are, the comfort of good company, and the recharge of peace.
Kids like to laugh. Friends like to hang out. Each of us like the idea of a better life. Before saying another word, before taking another step, before trying to figure it all out, let’s just drift a bit, together. Let’s sit in awe at the same goodness that surrounds us all. This can be done even after a hellacious storm. So, how do we restart this journey? Just for a moment, let’s be still.