Mom? Can God turn himself into a wall?
The question arrives from a backseat littered with cashew crumbs and flashcards atop CDs and board books. We’re on our way to a family reunion in southern Indiana, and I know we’re getting close because the hills make our bellies jump.
What do you mean? I ask 4-year-old Bee.
Well, like if there’s a wall in the road and it’s really big, can God turn himself into an even bigger wall with a giant hole in it so you can just go through it that way instead?
I’ve never really thought of that, I say.
You really should think of that, she says.
And so, the election. I’m thinking of that.
I will start by saying that I have never been one to place stock in our federal government’s (a) capability and (b) perspective to implement massive change on a local level. I believe in doing small things with great love. I believe in mowing your neighbor’s lawn. In visiting your grandmother’s nursing home. I believe in corner coffee shops and good deeds, in smiling at strangers, over-tipping the pregnant waitress.
Our president elect does not hinder me from doing any of the above, and so, I will continue.
This isn’t about me. This isn’t about what I do, or what I believe, or how I plan to implement change in my own small ways.
This is about each other.
This is about an even bigger wall with a giant hole in it.
We can no longer ignore the gap, can we? We can no longer deny the fact that we call ourselves good citizens, that we brake for bunnies and pay our taxes, but that a large portion of our country still feels unsafe, forgotten, misunderstood.
We cannot help the marginalized if we do not see the margins in which they live.
We are only infringing if we know nothing of the fringe.
After the family reunion, after hearing stories in celebration of my late grandfather, after winding through the back roads of middle America and chasing the sun, we stop for gas at a roadside station just as the night falls.
We head inside for a bathroom break (Bee) and coffee break (me), and as I pay for a medium dark roast, the silver-haired cashier whispers to me: Hug your girl extra tight. It’s a scary world out there.
I smile at her.
Bee used to be scared of sand. On a trip to the west coast one spring, Ken and I find ourselves piggy-backing her down the winding stairs to an open pier as we greet a wide stretch of shimmering water, terrain the color of her hair. I sit her diapered bottom onto the beach and – in a flash – her eyes find tears, her feet recoil. She kicks, fights with fear.
I pick her up. I hold her. We kneel down. I let her touch the sand, hold it in a fist, then open her hand so the grains can run through past her pinky.
Bee, meet sand, I say. Sand, meet Bee. She’s pretty nice once you get to know her.
We can hug our kids extra tight, sure. We can choose to dismiss fear, we can pretend the world’s not so scary after all. We can nod as the masses form snap judgments and airbrushed arguments. We can avoid the margins entirely, ignore the seas of people who feel choked down by waves. We can keep talking at each other, rather than to each other. We can squint in our dark Ray-Bans, point to the very edge where sand meets water, assume we know more about ways of life as we peer from our responsible-looking lifeguard towers.
Or we can kneel down. We can reach out and introduce ourselves, grain by grain, in all our complexities and hurt and pain.
Bee, meet sand.
Sand, meet Bee.
We can move toward discomfort with our children. Watch them make a fist, then learn how to open their hands.
As the moon rises, Bee and I get back in the car with fresh coffee and empty bladders. We return to the road, to the hills, to the cornfields and speed limits. She asks me about the woman at the filling station, asks me about what she said.
Why is the world scary? she wants to know.
And I tell her the story of her and the sand, of when she was just a baby. How some people are scared of sand and some are scared of water and both are valid fears. How the best thing we can do is sometimes introduce ourselves. Say hello. Ask questions. Listen.
What’s it like for you?
How big is your wall? The giant hole?
How can we find a way through it together?
Decide we’re pretty nice once we get to know each other.
I can do that, Mom! Bee says. I’m really really good at questions.
And I suppose that’s how we can help, for now, for today. We can train our children to ask questions. We can teach them how to listen, to introduce themselves to one another. We can raise our future generation to think critically with kindness and humility, without defense.
We can show them the walls we’ve mistakenly built. The giant holes in our arguments.
We can loosen our fists and open our hands.
And we can walk through together, to a brighter future, to the other side.
In the spirit of moving toward discomfort, here are a few practical introductions we can make with and for our children: