Monday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a national holiday that honors the life and legacy of Dr. MLK, Jr., which was a bright spot in what can be a very dark week. Today, Wednesday, January 20, 2021, Joseph R. Biden, Jr. will be inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States. Our nation’s capital, the District of Columbia, is on lockdown, preparing for violence surrounding what should be a peaceful transition of power from one administration to the next. Many are worried about violence as Trump leaves office and Biden assumes the presidency. The Capitol riots of January 6, 2021 are our most recent and best example of our very divided nation.
All of this is going on as our world continues to struggle with the coronavirus and its effects, including business shutdowns, job losses, and other widespread economic woes. The vaccines we thought would improve things greatly are having a difficult rollout, and as such have not yet improved things. It is unknown when things will improve, either our political divide or our experience with the coronavirus. So, what are we to do about any of this? Even with the vaccine on the way, experts tell us our best defense is still masks and social distancing.
We can do our part to repair the racial divide. While Black Lives Matter is an organized effort to do just that, we do not have to participate in an organized movement. We can be a movement in and of ourselves. Every action we take can help or hinder racial inequities. We are part of the problem or part of the solution. What we say and what we do speaks volumes to others about our values. I had an experience last week that reinforced that to me.
I was in a doctor’s office, dropping off some papers. As I left and got on the elevator, a man who also got into the elevator started talking to me. He told me that his doctor’s appointment had just been cancelled because he did not have $25. He had assumed that his visit was covered and did not realize that he needed $25 cash. He said he offered to go and get the money, but they would not wait, and cancelled his appointment. The next appointment they made for him was two months away. He said he knew he did not need to wait two months, but he didn’t know what to do. I immediately knew what I should do. I said to him, “May I give you the $25?” He was shocked and replied, “You would do that for me?!” I replied, “I am glad to do that; I can, and I am glad to.” He replied, it’s a God thing,” and I believed it was. I believed at the time and still believe that the man was only sharing his heart, he was not asking for money.
Since I only had a $50 bill, he and I went back into the doctor’s office, and I tried to pay the $25 for him. The receptionist said she had already cancelled his appointment. Had I not been insistent that it had only been five minutes, that surely, she could reinstate his appointment, I am convinced, money or not, his appointment would not have been reinstated. I am sure that the reason I did not have the $25 to give him, that I had to break the $50 bill, was so that I could intercede on his behalf and have his appointment reinstated. All the while my new friend was filling out the paperwork (on an iPad) and change was being made to pay the $25, he was thanking me, repeating over and over that it was a God thing. He asked for my address so he could send me a thank you note, and he wanted to repay me. I told him he did not need to repay me, just to pay it forward. Although I normally pay attention to social distancing, I did not worry about that when my new friend hugged me.
I left the doctor’s office and five minutes later went back in to get an address. A woman came up to me and said, “That was a wonderful thing that you did for that man, he has been singing your praises since you left, telling everyone around what you did for him.” I thanked her, and left, knowing that I had only done what any of us should do, if and when we can; help someone else. The fact that the man I helped was black should not matter; it did not matter to me. But to others looking on and knowing what had been done for him, that a black man was aided by a white woman, including the white woman who told me how wonderful it was, it may have mattered. This might be an example that some can relate to more than the marches they see. Maybe. The personal is political.
What can we do about the political divide in our country? Instead of trying to change the opinion of others, we can listen more and better, trying to understand the depths of unrest that put us where we are in this country. We can stop trying to explain our position on social media and recognize that anything we say about this issue will not change any minds and can further divide us from others. We can let time begin to change some hearts, even ours. We can develop more compassion and empathy for those who think differently from us and begin to build bridges with them over common ground.
We can walk a mile in others’ shoes.