Be not afraid. I come to bring you good cheer.
All right: “OK” cheer.
Unless you’ve been stuck for the past several months in a strip club where there are no clocks, the ATM doesn’t charge a fee and beer is a dollar, you know how deeply disgruntled many segments of the country seem.
Paranoia runs deep in the heartland, in the suburbs and in the inner city, too. The evening news may soon come with a warning label: viewing may be harmful to your spiritual health.
The sight I witnessed en route to work one day last week provided proof that we aren’t as doomed as the doomsayers say. An email I received later that day confirmed my conclusion.
Traffic on U.S. 70 in Durham around 2 p.m. last Tuesday was inching along way worse than it usually does, and you just knew there had to be a 14-car pileup or something mucking things up.
It was, fortunately, nothing as serious as that.
When I got within five car lengths of the obstruction, I noticed that an old SUV had broken down at the intersection of U.S. 70 and East End Avenue and everyone was slooooooooowly pulling around it and going on about their business.
Everyone did, that is, except for the two dudes in the automobiles just ahead of me. When they were close enough to go around the SUV, two men – one black, one white – dashed out of a car and truck and pushed the SUV with the driver in it across one lane of traffic onto the less heavily traveled East End Avenue. They patted each other on the shoulder, shook hands and jumped back into their rides.
That was a heartening sight, but it might have gone unremarked upon had it not been for the email message May Anderson of Raleigh sent me that same day – one I didn’t see until that night.
After exchanging emails with me lamenting the toxic nature of today’s political climate, Anderson wrote: “I saw something this morning on the way home from the gym that I found encouraging. A white man and a black man were pushing a motorcycle off of the road, that had apparently broken down. I certainly know nothing about motorcycles, but I would have guessed that it was quite an expensive one and took a lot of pushing, even with two people. ... After the bike was off the road, both men shook hands in a very friendly manner. It was so nice to see people of a different race helping one another like that.”
A small thing?
Sure, it was, and it happens way more often than you might think. When the country is as polarized as it is now, though, when certain factions and candidates exult in and profit from making us think anyone who is different from us is the reason our life is not a bowl of hot grits with red-eye gravy, you have to take your displays of decency and comity any place you can find them.
That’s why Anderson and I, on the same day, saw and appreciated the unsung acts of cooperation between men who didn’t appear to know each other but who joined to help out a stranger.
It’s easy, when one is exposed to the daily cacophony of cataclysm with which we are bombarded, to abandon one’s self to cynicism. You sometimes have to strain to see and hear beauty. It’s there, though, and it’s worth the effort.
For instance, I saw beauty in what could’ve become ugliness on a cold, gray, rainy afternoon during the Christmas holiday. On an obsessive quest for a rolling banker’s chair, I stopped at an antique shop on Chapel Hill Boulevard in Durham. As I approached the front door, an elderly lady inside the store rushed to the door and turned the lock. Click.
Oh no, not again. As someone who’s had thousands of doors locked on him over the years, I know well that dehumanizing sound and immediately suspected the woman was frightened by what she considered my scary countenance, had locked the door and probably called the law.
Nope. It turned out that she was running to the door to unlock it because, she said, she was in there alone and had gone to the bathroom.
She didn’t have the chair I sought, but she gave me something better: a good feeling for the rest of the day, perhaps for the rest of the week.
Remember last year in a speech in New Hampshire when Ted Cruz, now a leading presidential contender, was spouting his typical Ted doomsday spiel? “The whole world is on fire,” he said, and of course, it’s Obama’s fault. His talk was interrupted by a tiny, tinny little voice that asked, “The world is on fire?”
“The world is on fire, yes,” Cruz repeated to the 3-year-old girl seated on her mother’s lap. “Your world is on fire.”
No, Ted, it isn’t.