For a limited time, you can get my book for free! Download NowGet My Book!

A Nod and a Wave: Bridging the Divide

Years ago, I was given a valuable lesson by some young men I met in South Carolina. My company hired them to do some day labor. They worked hard and spoke little. When the workday was done, I gave them a ride back to their neighborhood. Along the road, I tried to make conversation with them, speaking of the deer we saw each night grazing along the roadway. None of the young men responded to anything I said. It was awkward.

When we arrived at their homes, they stepped out of the car and immediately began animatedly talking to each other, joking and natural. It was then that I realized what had just happened. They were black men, living in a small town in the South, wise to the ways of the culture they lived in. I was a white woman. Black men could not talk to a white woman without fear of retribution. Those young black men taught me what it meant to feel “white.” To really feel the color of my skin. It shook me because I realized that people whose skin is darker than mine feel the color of their skin every day of their lives.

Yesterday, I was reminded of those young men and the lesson they gave me. We passed through a Border Patrol Inspection Station in New Mexico. It was uncomfortable for me. What were they looking for? Was I going to get stopped? Would I have to answer questions? Would we be searched? Being from Maine, we don’t have the same level of Border Patrol involvement in most of the state. It’s mostly in the farther reaches of the state, far north from the more populated areas. Seeing Border Patrol trucks in New Mexico is far more common.

Let me say for the record that I respect and appreciate our Border Patrol officials. They are entrusted with an extremely important and difficult task in keeping us safe and protected from threats. And really, the point of this post has little to do with borders and race. And I know that’s a luxury I have that many do not.

Our experience with Border Patrol was that we received a friendly nod and a wave. No questions. No search. No issues. We went on our way. But I know that if I my skin was of a different hue, or if I drove a van or cargo truck, or seemed the least bit nervous our experience might have been different. I get it.

For me, the experience is a reminder that, beyond our current political and social climate and the ills of a broken and broken-hearted world, we too often miss the point. We make snap judgements because it’s easier than digging deeper. We focus on the differences that divide us rather than the similarities that unite us. We all greet those who are “different” from us with suspicion or derision or fear or anger. Humans are a strange species. It is both why the species has survived and why the species is failing.

With all the frailties and cruelties of humanity, it would be easy to be cynical. To be angry. To be fearful. To be broken or broken-hearted.  But I won’t let politics or wars or borders divide me from humanity. We are neighbors. Some neighbors are good and some are not. And that has nothing to do with race, nationality, income, or ability. We are all learning life at our own speed and traveling the road on our own path. I will continue to face my own pre-conceived notions of who you are and who I am. When I see you on the road, I will nod and wave and wish you well.

I leave you with a quote from the beloved Anne Frank. Her precious spirit inspires others long after her death. A death caused by senseless divisions and unspeakable cruelty. “I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

Leave a reply