Stories, people I know and don't know are writing and sharing stories. Some are political, or religious, cultural, social, emotional, true and -some not so true. Over the summer and early fall I read a lot of the stories. Links posted on Facebook from Huffpost or blogs, the NY Times or other sources made it easy to read them. Some of the stories were poignant and heartfelt. Some were angry. Some made me angry. Some offered facts - true or at least true-sounding. Many of the stories fueled in me a deep concern for this country. More often than not the stories diminished my sense of hope.
I am by nature hopeful, an optimist, so it is distressing to me to experience a loss of hope.
I lived for about 8 years in a suburb that had no sidewalks. People lived in large houses on large lots of land. Everyday people got into their cars and pulled out of their attached garages and drove to work. At the end of the day they pulled their cars into their attached garages and entered their homes without ever seeing or speaking to a neighbor. I felt isolated and lonely in the suburb. Prior to this place I lived in neighborhoods where the houses were a small sidewalk apart. If I wanted too I could see in my neighbors house and watch them eating dinner. We saw our neighbors every day, often stopping for a short conversation over the fence. We chatted about kids and work and life. My neighbors were Mexican, or Asian, or Polish, or a hodge-podge of second and third generation American. We all mowed our lawns and looked out for each others kids and helped collect the dog that escaped from the yard. We shoveled each others sidewalks. We knew each other. But in that suburb people were suspicious of anyone they did not know, and that often meant their own neighbor. It was a foreign and unsettling place of distrust and competition.
When I lived in that suburb I missed the ability to walk from one place to another. To walk to the corner grocery story for an ice cream bar with my kids or walk to the library. Nothing was within walking distance - a car was needed to get anywhere. Four lane roads of high speed traffic and no sidewalks meant walking was virtually dangerous. I missed the casual conversation with my neighbors and a daily walk with my kids and dogs. Such ordinary activity.
When was the last time you walked anywhere? And especially when was the last time you walked in a crowd of people? Did you look people in the eye? Did you say thank you to anyone who might have held a door open for you?
I am reading, along with members of the church, Parker Palmer's book, "Healing the Heart of Democracy." Palmer writes about the current state of our country and suggests that part of the problem is our lack of meeting people in public. We have become a country of private, individualized people who equate the stranger with the enemy. We struggle to hold in tension our differences without demonizing the other because we no longer take the time nor enable the opportunity to hear each others stories, to know one another.
Failing to experience others in our community diminishes our ability to learn about one another and ourselves. We lose our sense of group identity, of community, of trust. Palmer writes:
"In the company of strangers, we can learn that we are all in this together despite our many differences; that some of our differences are enriching and those that are vexing are negotiable; that it is possible to do business amicably with one another even in the face of conflicting interests. In the company of strangers, we can speak our minds aloud and listen as others speak theirs; in dialogue we may discover a common good in the midst of our diversity; and we have a chance to raise our voices to a level of audibility that none of us could achieve alone....The simple act of walking down a crowded city sidewalk....we...learn the dance of public life - speeding up and slowing down, veering left and then right, until we arrive at our destination..."
We have lost the art of negotiating public life. Walking down a crowded sidewalk we must learn to navigate our way, left, right, bumping, jostling, aware of others all around us. Learn to navigate or risk losing the ability to get along with others.
Crisscross Applesauce - a simple instruction that helps children navigate school by understanding when it is story time and what to do. It is time to adopt a posture, to sit, somewhat still, and listen to another and learn. A posture that will help the child learn that her or his point of view will also be heard along the way as the story is told.
What would happen if we all could adopt a posture of listening, sharing, hearing, and learning? What might it take for us, adults, to do this? I guess it begins with one, and then another, and then another, being willing to do this. To not lose hope. To take on an attitude of compassion.
Maybe, like this little child in church, who just couldn't quite contain herself and had to share a point now and then, we need to share our stories. And be heard. And loved. We need for open discussions to happen so we can listen and learn and grow and know one another.
When I write here I always think, you don't need to agree with me, but I hope you will hear my point of view and then whether you thing the same or you think otherwise, share it with me. It's the only way I will grow and learn and deepen my trust in myself, in others, in life, in humanity.
Crisscross applesauce - I'll share my stories and hope you will share yours too.