All my life I seem to have taken the hard route to where ever I was going. I made a lot of mistakes and traveled many dead-end roads and had to stop, reverse course and look for the right way.
A few years ago, I realized that despite the mistakes and wrong turns I somehow always managed to land on my feet and stay out of harm’s way. It dawned on me I must have an angel sitting on my shoulder, bailing me out when needed. And that led me to understand and believe that nothing in life is random – everything has a reason and, at the end of the day, it is God’s plan.
But I still sometimes forget my angel and find myself wandering down the wrong path.
Election Night we watched the election returns with some friends in our home. As the night grew longer and it became evident we were going to have a different president than we had expected, we all went into shock. As the night wore on, the more palpable the shock felt.
After waking the next morning, I tried unsuccessfully to not think about what had happened. I felt angry, hurt, scared and confused. It seemed as if the foundation of the country — our values, our institutions, our humanity — and the future for my children and grandchildren was in harm’s way.
I could not get the rhetoric of the campaign out of my mind – the disrespect, the insults, the vile behavior – basically the worst side of humanity. I could deal with it, but I deeply resented what it meant for my children’s world.
What kind of example did it set?
I also still could not understand, nor believe, how so many people I respected could have made such a reckless decision. Didn’t they realize how much more dangerous our world would now become or how many of our values were at risk?
It just didn’t make sense, and I could feel frustration and anger well up inside me.
That’s when the angel on my shoulder kicked me in the head, said we needed to talk. She proceeded to walk me through the why and how to see past the election and move on with my life in a purposeful way.
The angel’s “talk” came in four unexpected stages.
The first was a text from my wife. She sent me a link to a YouTube video with Stephen Colbert and said, “Watch the whole thing.” I did. It made me smile, then laugh. Watch the video ( http://tinyurl.com/ColbertListen )and you will see someone just as shocked and angry as I was take some deep breaths, process what happened and find a way to bring grace into the room. I needed that grace.
The second stage took the form of one of our newspaper delivery folks who walked into my office as I was growing angrier by the minute. She welcomed me back from my recent Appalachian Trail hike.
She and her husband have been delivering our papers for well over 10 years. They are good, kind, hard-working people whom I adore. I asked about her son, who also delivers our papers, and she said he was doing well and that she hoped he would be able to afford health insurance soon if the current system is changed.
She said during every election she prays and, no matter who is elected, she tries hard to be optimistic and look for the good. I shared my fears and worries for the future for my children. She was a good listener and it helped me so much to talk.
When she left, I thanked my angel for the second time. I hope this election makes it possible for her son to afford health insurance. And I hope and pray the 15 million people who were able to get health insurance for the first time will be able to keep it.
The third stage of my angel’s conversation was related to the second stage.
The first thing my delivery person told me that morning was how proud of me she was for hiking the Appalachian Trail. That reminded me about the most precious gift the hike gave me – the understanding of and witness to the overwhelming kindness I received while I hiked.
If the Trail is nothing else, it is a living, breathing, real-time witness to our humanity and basic goodness. It taught me that given the opportunity, we will be kind, we will do the right thing. Because we care about each other. We do not have to be so bitterly polarized. I saw examples of this over and over and over. My angel reminded me not to forget about this grace. And that now that the election is over, the posturing can stop and we can start to work on healing and finding common ground.
The fourth angel stage occurred by phone.
My friend James Carr called to check on me. James is one of my son Hans’ best friends and also a friend of mine. He is an activist whose focus is on sustainable agriculture and healthy nutrition. He works harder than anyone I know – basically trying to help us all. He rarely gets any acknowledgement or thanks, but that doesn’t slow him down.
Nothing in Trump’s platform furthered James’ causes or general approach to life. His call was short. He simply told me “to keep building bridges, keep engaging and keep fighting to help us heal” – just like he does every day.
“Fight this with love,” he said. And he also told me to keep publishing with integrity, honor and truth “because we need your voice – and the other local reliable news sources now more than we ever have.”
And as I hung up, I knew his call had not been a random act.
We do have choices.
In the YouTube video, Colbert points out that roughly half of Democrats believe Republican policies pose a grave danger to our country’s future and roughly half of Republicans believe Democratic policies do the same. That is, each side terrifies the other. We need to acknowledge this mutual fear and act to build bridges, so both points of view can coexist instead of fostering a state of perpetual animosity and hate.
For our children and grandchildren’s sake, we must set a higher personal standard, one that improves how we treat one another. We must build bridges, and show tolerance and respect for each other and our institutions.
You and I must decide that enough is enough. You and I must hold politicians accountable, regardless of who is in power.
For the sake of generations to come, we must move toward common ground and learn to honor all.
It starts with me.
It starts with you.
If we work together, I know we will be OK.