Boxism

It is August 12th. I am leaving Hayes Kansas and headed to Denver. I stop at the Cedar Bluffs State Park on the way. It is hot…high 90’s. I find a quiet path that leads to a small lake. I take it. Two deer run so close I can feel the wake of their passage.

I start looking for the feather…have this fleeting sense that if I do not find one…that it’s still okay. I do not see one today.

I get back to my car…check my messages and there are three waiting there…each with photos attached…of feathers.

_____________________________________________________________

I am driving through Kansas and then into Western Colorado. I’ve never seen landscape like this. Flat, green at first and then barren. Cowboys live here. I see the Rockies in the distance and imagine what it must have been like for the settlers to blaze that trail…to see those big, sharp mountains ahead of them…and still move forward.

___________________________________

This evening we are meeting in the home of Peg Duffy. She sends me directions to her home. It is several thousand feet above Denver, in the town of Golden, CO.

My fear of heights kicks in…climbing to her home. This fear is deep…I think I was born with it. I must have been. My hands get clammy, my heart beats, I have trouble breathing and I think I’m going to faint. It’s a legitimate phobia…debilitating…the anxiety is overwhelming.

I’ve never met Peg but the minute I walk into her home, I feel safe. It smells of something divine…like herbs and essences and aromas that make me think spa, health and enlightenment.

I see her and wonder…have we met? She is radiant. Light incarnate. Bright and present.

The group gathers. It is a diverse group…mostly women but women from all walks of life.

We introduce ourselves.

There is Sasha. Sasha is an educator. She has two children with her partner. She does therapeutic work with kids and is tender, soft…gentle-spirited.

Next to her is Kim. Kim is bold. She smiles with strength. “I am often the only black person in the room,” as was the case in this situation. Kim works with women…advocates on their behalf.

Then there is Jill Pond. She is the Founder of Girls Rite…a group that uses writing and journaling to empower young girls to be the author of their own lives.

Further along in our introductions, we meet Saorsie. She was elected to her local town’s council. She embodies the Red Boot Way. Strong, Tender. Deep Listening. Open-Minded. Un-wavering in her attempts to live fully into those ideals.

I begin with context. How the whole Red Boot Coalition started. I feel welcome here…a yearning on the part of every person in the room to engage….to DO something.

We first have to get past our anger. Several folks talk about the challenges they’ve had recently with a recent school board election. Jill brings up the need for our girls to have role models. Kim agrees.

We all agree that what we suffer from cross-culturally is a kind of “boxism” and politics is one manifestation of that. It’s so engrained in us to size people up immediately…place them in a box…this keeps it easy, safe, understood and that this, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily bad…but when we base our perceptions of their character and worth to our society on the box in which we’ve “put them,” this is when things get dicey.

Sasha points out that there are the obvious boxes…Lesbian, African-American, Woman, Poor, Muslim, Christian. But on the other hand…don’t we have boxes for the rich white male? The mother? The heterosexual female? The artist? The teenager?

Saorsie shares a brilliant story of someone in her voting district who was very upset with a decision she had made... and so she invited him to meet her. He did. And they talked…and listened…and talked some more…and listened some more. And while they didn’t necessarily agree with each other on this particular issue, they knew each other…and as she shared…”It becomes nearly impossible to dislike…hate…someone you know and bond with. Surely if we start with what we have in common first…the rest is going to work itself out.”

I drive back down the mountain…and am afraid…again.

_________________________________

The following morning, I run in Cherry Creek Park in Aurora, Colorado…a suburb of Denver. The air is dry. I do not see a feather. And decide that it’s okay. Someone will send one to me.

I get back to my car…and there are three waiting there…in text messages and on my Facebook page.

_______________

August 15th. I drive to Las Vegas. I pull the car over several times to catch my breath. I cannot do this. I am literally terrified. The exposure, the cliffs, the expansive views, the cars and trucks around me. I’d like someone else to take the wheel. I cannot do this.

________________

I am sitting by the pool at the hotel in Las Vegas and observe the young men…tan and lean…Ray Bans on…drinks in hand. They stand in the pool waste deep…their torsos exposed...like peacock feathers. Young women, legs dangling over the pool’s edge, hats on, glitter of earrings, jewelry, nails painted…eyes glance, laughter, some kind of “I see you” exchange. They begin to talk.

There is an older couple…early 60’s…by the pool also. He runs his hand across her back. She smiles and places her hand on his knee. He giggles. _____________________________________________________________

August 18th. I’m driving to Scottsdale, AZ. I see it in front of me. The Hoover Dam and I’ve got to cross it…the winds are strong and my little car rocks back and forth…Lake Mead is so far below. I am shaking. I’m getting angry. I hate this. I HATE this. I don’t think I can do this anymore.

“You signed up for this Molly,” I remind myself. "Nobody is MAKING you do this."

I still hate it.

______________

The road becomes rolling. I am in the high desert of Nevada and Arizona. It is hot, but I keep the top down anyway.

I pass a broken-in-so-many-places-it-looks-unlivable, small mobile home in the middle of absolutely nowhere. A fence is around it. A hand full of rusted out cars dot the property. A curtain moves in and out of a window frame that has no glass. Dogs…two of them lying in the dirt…lift a curious eye as I slow down to look.

Someone lives here. I want to know who. I want to know them.

_______________

August 19th. Afternoon. I head to a nearby Starbucks to write. I’m setting up my little writing space. He sits next to me.

“So is that a beer? Are they actually selling beer in Starbuck’s now?”

I glance his way and smile.

“Naw. This is a Fizzie. It’s a type of juice and sparkling water beverage.”

He grins.

His name is Mostafa. I liked him the minute he spoke to me. Friendly, warm, funny, charming and clearly has a way with the ladies. (These are his words not mine.)

Mostafa is from Iran. He has been in the states for a long time. He has lived all over this “great nation” of ours. Married a couple of times, he is now married and crazy about Chantelle, his wife. She is from South Carolina. They own a jewelry store.

He laughs. “She tells our customers to “Come back now. Ya’ll hear?”

I repeat what he said with a much better southern version than his accent could muster up.

We talk for a while about politics. About thirty minutes in, we get to where all the conversations seem to “get to.” Souls, connection, being, listening.

I ask him why he started talking to me.

“Oh…you just seemed like the kind of person who would be interesting. You know…you live through your soul.”

I thought about that.

I think about it now.

I like how that sounds.

I think Mostofa lives through his soul too.

_______________

It is August 20th. I am in El Paso, TX. . I am talking with Gladys. She is the hostess at the restaurant where I am grabbing a late dinner.

Gladys pointed across the interstate: “That’s Juarez, Mexico. One of the most dangerous cities in all of Mexico. Violence there is so frequent it’s become commonplace. Especially for women. You would be taking your life into your hands if you simply walked across the road and across the border.”

“You will see the border police pacing along the Rio Grande. It’s very surreal.”

She continues. “El Paso is one of the safest cities in the United States.”

(I later ask one of my Texas friends to explain how this can be. He explains. “The Cartel that has so corrupted the government, police and security in Mexico wants no attention drawn to them. So they keep their illegal activity to just across the border.”)

I try to see across the river, but it’s too dark now.

Gladys speaks Spanish. She grew up in El Paso. Went to college and returned.

She is very friendly.

I ask her what she thinks about the people living in Mexico who are dropping their children on the American side of the border between the two countries.

“I understand why. You will see Juarez in the morning, when you head East on Interstate 10. I’m not a mother yet, but if I were a mom…I wouldn’t know what else to do either.”

Joseph, my waiter sits down at the table. He joins in.

“We are a culture who bonds through polarization. It’s not just politics. It’s everywhere. It’s in everything. The whole idea of “Divide and Conquer.” It’s how we think. It’s how we are trained.”

“What can we do about it?” I ask him.

“This. Right here. This is what we can do about it.”

______________

I head West on Interstate 10. I see the Border Patrol first. He is walking along the banks of the Rio Grande. Looking down into the river itself. There is a fence there.

Juarez is close enough that I can see it in detail. Shanties and shacks, constructed out of what looks like cement blocks, are crumbling down the mountain side. The roads are so poorly engineered that I’m not sure cars can utilize them. I do not see any cars, people, life.

There are bikes leaning up against cement walls and clothes hanging from clothes lines. They blow in the hot wind.

I want to know, to understand. Who is dying? Who is living? Who is afraid? Who is laughing? Who is crying? Who is murdering? Who is praying? Who is there?

I glance back to the Interstate ahead of me. The billboards call to me: Gucci. Subway. Starbucks. Boots, Comfort Inn. Pandora.

I think back to my conversation with Gladys. I am a mother.

_________________________________________________

I am now driving across West Texas.

It is hot. It is flat. It is sandy. It is desert. There are oil fields and wind mills. The smell of oil rises up on occasion.

I can see until I can see no more. The flat line of horizon stops. There are small tornadoes of dust…tiny whirlwinds of white and brown sand and dust rising up from the earth.

I wonder if these are dangerous. How fast is the wind? Will they cross the road?

I pull into a gas station. There is an employee in the restroom cleaning the mirror and I ask...

“So…what are those little tornados of dirt?”

“What do you mean?” She looks at me confused.

“Well…I mean what are they? They look like dust tornadoes. Are they dangerous? Will they hurt my car? Should I be worried about them?”

She laughs so hard I think she is going to cry.

“Naw. They are harmless.”

I ask her why she thinks this is so funny.

“I’ve never had anyone ask me that before. They are just so common around here.”

__________________________

I stop again. I have to. Singing Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” can keep me entertained for only so long. Texas is big. Ginormous actually.

I’m at a fast food restaurant. Burger. Fries. Big delicious cold and icy Coke.

I’m eating my meal.

I see them. Two men. They are speaking Spanish. Their skin is very brown…weathered. They are in their late 20’s I think. One wears a wedding band, cowboy boots and a baseball cap. The other has gages in his ears, cowboy hat and work boots. Both are covered in dirt that is brown and black.

They are laughing. The one with gages is missing a front tooth.

I am extremely curious. I want to ask them so many questions, like where they are from…and whether their family is here with them. I want to know if they work on the oil fields and if they are happy. I want to know if they are immigrants to America or whether they were raised here. I want to know if they drive a truck and what they love about living here and what scares them. I want to know if they own one gun or lots of them and if they know how to dance and if they like to dance. I want to know what kind of music they listen to and if they enjoy a cold beer every once in a while.

But I don’t…because I am afraid.

I’m afraid because I’m a woman and they are two men. I’m afraid because I am small and they look stronger than me. I’m afraid because I’m not sure if they speak English. I’m afraid because I’m not quite sure where I am in Texas. I’m afraid because someone told me to be afraid. I’m afraid and I am sad and I want to be brave enough to ask them if they live through their soul.

But I don’t.

I get back in my car and I think and pray and wonder if this has anything to do with what’s going on in Ferguson.