Eli's Smile

This in from Molly and the Red Boot Ride:

It is August 10th

I arrive in St. Louis, MO…check into a Best Western that is right there on the Historic Route 66.  I check in and head back to the car to grab my things and when I return there are three men…three burly men (I know no other way to describe them) standing at the entrance.
Two are talking…the other is off to the side.

One of them, gives me a nod as I come in the door.

I say, “Hi.”

I’m almost to the elevator when I think to myself.  “Something about these guys kind of scares me.”  I quickly run through the rationale of that thought and realize that there truly is no harm here.  What scares me is that I think I know something about them….they are different than me and what I think I know about them…has fear all wrapped up around it. 

We are in the lobby.  There are people coming and going.  There is nothing to fear here…so I turn back and say, “Hey Ya’ll.  I’m working on a project that is looking at what’s going on in America that has us so polarized politically.   Would you guys be willing to talk with me about that?"

One of the guys said, “Sure.  I’d be happy to talk.”
The other one said, “I dunno.”  The I-dunno had that sing-song sound to it like “I’m not too sure about this.”  He continues.  “We are in the middle of a big contract negotiation within our industry.”

“So you guys are in a union?" I ask.

“Yep.”  The one who is more open to conversation begins.

“We work for a multi-billion dollar industry.  I think the management would just like to get rid of us altogether and let robots do the job instead.”

I ask him how long he’s worked for his industry.

“Fifteen years.”

We chat a bit longer about the negotiations and how those look to him.  One of the men, the one who is off to the side, picks up his things and walks outside.  He does not want to engage. 

We talk a bit more abut their work.

“Do ya’ll have kids?”

They both do.  One of them is married.  The other is quick to let me know he is divorced.  :)
“Would you mind if I snap a photo of you two?”

They prefer that I not. 

I decide that now is a good time for me to head to the elevator.
“Thank you guys for talking with me.  I really appreciate it."

“Awww.  No problem miss.”
I haven’t been called miss in a long, long time.

It’s 4:30 and I head on over to the home of Jim and Tara Galvoski.  Jim and I have been friends for nearly a year.  I spoke at a TEDx event in St. Louis and he reached out to me in advance.  His daughter did Girls on the Run and he was hoping to connect. 

We didn’t connect then, but  have since.

Jim is responsible for all of the cool Red Boot T-shirts and “Red Boot” celebrity images.
Jim has helped organize our Red Boot Event in St. Louis.  We head out for dinner and then over to the venue where our evening will happen.

The gathering is in the yoga studio of Julie Bergfeld.  Jim and I get there and the room already has most of our Red Boot Folks there!

St. Louis Red Booters.

We sit in a circle and begin with introductions.  Many have or are Girls on the Run coaches.  Two women are writing a book on politics.  Christine Doyle has been writing about the “middle ground” for a while now.  Her blog “Moderate Moment” is her passion.

Wendie Cummings, along with Jim and Julie, helped bring together the group now openly communicating about how difficult it is to be really open when confronted by someone who appears not to be. 

“It’s a little like the parent who is hitting their child and saying, ‘Stop hitting your little brother.’ The change must occur with somebody, why not let it be me?”

As with all the other Red Boot Gatherings, the warmth in the room and the willingness to be vulnerable…to share how hard it is to not engage in all the rhetoric...is inspiring.

Allie says, “it’s just so simple what we can do to contribute to the conversation.  To set aside our need to be right and to just listen.  But it’s so hard.  Why is it so darn hard?”

There is laughter in the room at this point.  Not an uncomfortable laughter but a “I totally relate to what you just said” kind of laughter.

Jim reminds us that "Just because I am right doesn't mean you have to be wrong."  This doesn't have to always have a this and that kind of approach. 

Tara his wife, a scientist, shares that she loves to constantly challenge her hypotheses.  "Personal growth comes when I look for the things that challenge my current way of seeing things.  I am always in a state of doubt.  This doesn't mean I'm not confident.  Just always willing to challenge my own beliefs...and dig deeper into something new."

Maggie, a self-proclaimed quiet person…not one prone to express a strong opinion either way, rounds us out.  “Over my desk at Girls on the Run, are a list of our core values.  I think the one that resonates with me the loudest and that seems so relevant to this conversation is this one: 'Assume Positive Intent.'"

We all nod.
Meanwhile, riots are raging in Ferguson.  Just up the road.

I am back at Jim and Tara’s after our Red Boot Gathering.  Sam, their 7 year old is upstairs tucked underneath the covers in his parents’ big queen bed watching a movie.

Jim has shared with me that Sam can now do bike tricks.  Jim shows me Sam’s tricks on a video he has on his smartphone.  Sam, a rambunctiously tender kid, will ride down a hill on his two-wheeler and then lift up both legs off the pedals and coast like that for several feet. 

I ask Jim and Tara if I can talk to Sam about that.

I go upstairs.

“Sam…I hear you can do bike tricks.”

“Yep,” he says with this attempt to remain nonchalant but you can just tell he is overflowing with a big “YES I CAN” on the inside.

I continue. “So you are telling me that you can lift both feet off the pedals and coast on your bike.  That’s totally awesome.”

“Yes,” he says

We sit there for a moment or two.

“I can also take a turn with one hand on the handlebars, one hand off the handlebars and one foot off the pedal.”

He kind of demonstrates.

“Wow.  That is just so cool.”

We look at each other and smile…one dare devil to another.
Next morning, I’m trying to find the YMCA in Kirkwood, MO so I can work out before I head to Columbia, MO.  I pull into a parking lot—a very large parking lot.

Moments later I see him walking to the Mustang.  The passenger window is down and he walks to it.

“Are you lost or something?”

I smile at him.

He smiles back.
“Ahhh…nope.  I’m just using my phone GPS to locate my next stop.”

This guys has THE friendliest, warmest energy about him.  You know when you feel that kind of "kindness."

He lingers.  I get out of the car.
“Can I ask you a few questions about a project I am working on?’

"Sure," he says easily and with no reluctance.

“What’s your name?”

“I’m Molly.  Nice to meet cha.  What do you think’s going on that people are so hyped up about politics.”

Eli begins.  “We’re just so angry.  People don’t seem to know how to communicate with each other…to listen.”

Eli shares so much of what I’ve heard.  The media, social media, television, getting into our little bubbles.  We are so rarely exposed to people who are different than us.”

We talk about what's going on in Ferguson...close to home for him.  It's scary.

We snap a photo.  I ask him if I can write about him on my blog.  There is something so incredibly cool about Eli…so open.

Eli is about the nicest guy you'll ever meet.

“Sure,” he says enthusiastically.

I get back in my car, preparing to drive away when he walks back up to the passenger window.

“You know,” he shares.  “There’s just no love left.”
I make my way to the Kirkland YMCA.  I am in the weight room, when she says to me, “So were you always in that kind of shape?”

I share with her that I’ve been a runner my whole life.
“I will start up again after this pregnancy.”  She shares. Pregnant with her third, this beautiful woman is a few months in.  She has two girls and is now pregnant with a son.”

We talk at length about the current political situation.  It’s so easy to get stuck in our own privilege and not expose ourselves to those without or those who are different. 

I ask her if I can write about her on my blog…we snap a photo.

“What’s your name?” I ask.

“Preet.”  Her parents are from India.

"Does it have a meaning?"

She smiles.  "Love."

I run on Grant’s trail…a little later.  Grant’s trail is an asphalt path that weaves its way through St. Louis.  I just pass Grant's Farm where the famous Clydesdales are raised, when I come up on a man who is running slower than me. I begin to pass him.  He senses I am there and speeds up…he gets several yards ahead of me and slows back down.

I keep my pace.

I come up on him again.  He senses I am there and accelerates again…clearly not wanting me to pass him.

I keep my pace…although the competitor in me wants to just pass him and get it over with.  I chuckle and allow myself to see what will happen if I just hold my pace.
This happens a half-dozen times…when on the last he turns around and heads back.

I wonder what that is all about and just keep on going.

It's not much further that I see it there. You know...the feather.