Polarization In America

Red Boot Ride Update:

It is August 22nd.  I am in Dallas Texas.  I awaken  to the humidity and white overcast skies of morning dew that I’m accustomed to back in Charlotte.  I’ve slept in, tired from hours of driving across Western Texas.

I put on my running shoes, shorts and jog top and head to the Katy Trail.  The Katy Trail in Dallas is a rails to trails route that is about 4 miles in length…fun place to run.  Lots of people to watch.

By the time I’m done, it’s close to 11:00 a.m.  Hot, humid and sunny.  I walk the last mile back to my hotel.

There are dozens of feathers scattered along the path.
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I go to a Starbucks in the Highland Park area to write. I’ve been told this is the wealthy part of Dallas. 

Funny.  I normally engage in dialogue easily with folks, but have no luck here.
 
My table is in the middle of the room.
 
I wonder what that is all about.
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I am eating a delicious meal of scallops and risotto at the hotel restaurant.  I am by myself and enjoying the company. 

He walks up.

“How’s your meal, miss?”

“Delicious.”

I pause for a moment and then ask, “What’s up with this place?  Everyone here is absolutely wonderfully friendly.  I haven’t met one person who doesn’t seem to love their job.  Can you explain that to me?"

“Well,” he explains.  “I guess it’s because we DO love our jobs.”

We chat for a moment or two more and then he walks away.

Five minutes later he returns.

“You know, you got me thinking.  I’m not sure everyone loves their jobs…as in the actual job they are paid to do.  But I do know that they love being here.  We are like one big family.  We all feel needed, valuable. I'm not sure if what we do matters to the company as much as just mattering to the company...to each other."

The next morning on my way back to the Katy Trail, I stopped and thanked a gentleman who was laying cement for a brand new city sidewalk.

“Thank you so much for doing this.  Thanks to people like you, I’ve got a sidewalk to run on...to be safe.  Thanks to you, I can do this!"

I jog in place on the sidewalk adjacent to his masterful work.

He pulled up from the work at hand and responded in a thick Spanish accent, “Gracias. You have just made my day.” 

His grin that followed made mine.
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It is August 23rd.  I learn this morning that my sweet fourteen year old dog Lacy has died.  Old age.  It was her time.  My son was with her when it happened.  He called me in tears.  We talk through precisely what steps he needs to make…calling our veterinarian…made a decision to cremate her body so that we can have a special ceremony when I get home.

We’ve been through a lot with that precious little animal…My divorce.  My children’s adolescence.  Hank was only four when we got her.  Helen was one.   

I debate about writing about her. Something about this feels so personal and intimate.   Want to hold her in my thoughts as the fun, gallivanting puppy-spirit that she was.  I call a few friends of mine and cry.
 
I decide to go home…for a couple of days.  To be with my kids.

Lacy lately

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 I’m not sure why but the Ferguson incident continues to weigh heavy on my mind.  I stop at a gas station in rural Louisiana.  I am paying for my gas.

The woman behind the counter is African-American.  I am White.  I tell her that I’m traveling cross country and that I’m talking to folks all along the way about the polarized state of politics. 

She smiles, takes my money and then hands back my change.

There is no one in line behind me so I tell her that I was in St. Louis the day Michael Brown was shot and that the whole thing is weighing so very heavy on my heart.  It’s a tragedy for everyone. 
 
“What do you think about all that has gone on there?”

She pauses and lowers her head...

“I’ve learned to just...” and then she sighs a heavy, audible sigh and moves her hands, from a central position adjacent to each other, out to each side…as if smoothing out the waters, or a tablecloth or the space between us.

I look at her.  She looks at me.

“It’s just how I cope.”
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I cross the Mississippi River in daylight and do my best to snap a photo of it.  I promised Dave, the truck driver I met back in Williamsport on the third day of my trip...that I would.  He has crossed the Mississippi so many times he can’t remember…but all of them in the middle of the night.

I have no way to contact him, but trust that he knows somehow… that I have done this…in honor of him.

Mississippi river
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I am at my hotel.  I am in Vicksburg, Mississippi. 

I order dinner.  The woman behind the counter is black.  I am white.  I now realize that I write this because as much as I want to think that this doesn’t affect how we talk about the polarization in America I think it might…and so I now feel an obligation to state the obvious.  I’m afraid to state the obvious because I want to believe, from the deepest parts of my heart, that the racism I grew up with in the South back in the 60’s and 70’s is gone, but I’m not seeing or hearing or reading that in the newspaper or seeing, hearing or reading it in the voices of those I have spoken with. 

And while I’m not seeing it in my own life directly, I’m beginning to question everything that is my reality.  What started as a dialogue about the polarization in politics is now becoming an understanding that the polarization isn't about politics...but about the polarization in America...politics is just one manifestation of that.

This trip is opening my eyes to see things through the eyes of others and while I try my very best to not box people in because of their race, religion, economics or gender, there are those who do.
 
I tell her about my cross country journey. 

"I'm talking to folks about the polarized state of politics.  What do you think about that?"

She says that people are polarized on all kinds of topics...not just politics.

The Ferguson situation is one of those polarizing topics.  I ask her about it.

She is the single mother to two teenage boys.

“I’ve had to raise them to be aware.  They can’t drive through certain areas with the radio blaring and their seats all pushed back because they are more likely to get pulled over.  It’s just the way it is.  We’ve just learned to deal with it.”

I’m thinking about how I have to be aware of my clothing at times, running in certain areas at certain times of the night, being alone and driving across the country…I am a woman…and it’s just how things are.

I am scared to write this because I do not want to offend and yet I’m curious and open and loving and wanting so much to understand…to create safe spaces for dialogue like this to occur…where the intentions beneath the surface are not to separate but to unify.  I want to understand what it's like to be the mother of two black teenagers and relate to her from my mother-self and the love of our children and the fears we have each and every day they venture out into the world. I want to talk about the violence we see in the world and how I wonder sometimes if mothers...mothers like us could talk about our sons and daughters and be honest and real and open...how that would be a start...a something...a beginning to end all that violence.

As I walk away, she calls out.  “The Bible prophesizes that the end of the world is near anyway.  I think there’s not a whole lot we can do about it…so I just keep on doing what I’m doing.”

Hank and Vinnie

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It is August 24th.  I will not be running today.  I have a long, long drive ahead of me.
My friend sends me a photo of a feather he has found. 
It is a Red Feather.
I have no doubt anymore…that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be.
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POST SCRIPT to today's travel entry:

I was writing this trip entry from Charlotte, NC on August 27th.

I noticed while I was writing this…a highly-spirited and very contented fellow sitting at a table across the room, sipping on a large cup of coffee...listening to the music on the sound system.  No cell phone.  No computer.  No technology.

He is just sitting there listening to the selection of Motown hits coming through the Starbuck’s speakers.

He and I make eye contact.  He smiles at me and I smile back.  This happens a few times.  He sits there for close to an hour…just listening and sipping on his coffee…before he heads outside.

He is seated at an outside table, when as I leave, we make eye contact again.

“Hey,” he calls out.

“Hey,” I respond.  Like old friends, we smile at one another.

You are just one of the most interesting people,” he shares. “I don’t know what it is, but you have this kind of…Hippie Aura about you that is wholesome, friendly and like what I knew growing up in the hippie era.”

I stop and laugh.  As in a big laugh.  A guffaw actually.

“Pull up a chair,’ he says.

And so I do.

He tells me that he is a financial guy...sells financial products that help people manage their funds. His name is Nate.  He is 65 years old.

“What do you do?” he asks.  His grin is nonstop.

“I’m working on a project that is exploring the hyperpolarized state of American Politics.”

He almost interrupts.

“Sister…it’s not American Politics that is polarized.  It’s AMERICA!”

I ask him to explain. 

It’s everywhere.  Us versus Them has become our universal ways of looking at
things.”

I can tell that he is wise and so I ask him, “How did you become so aware of this dialogue…this us versus them perspective…yet remain somehow above it.”

He continues.  “I was in the military.  In the military, you see people from all across the world…and learn quickly that deep down we are all really the same. 

The truth is everybody cries, laughs, feels fear, knows joy. We are really more alike than we are different.”

We talk for another twenty minutes. 

I ask him if I can take a picture with him and post it on my blog.

He says, “Why of course.”

nate