It’s the Fourth of July and I am watching news footage of angry residents in a California farming community shouting ethnic slurs and attempting to stop a bus hauling immigrant children to a detention center. Yes, there is so much hate in the world.
But then I sit down and read a brilliant 2012 novel by Rachel Joyce (“The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry”). The main character walking across England to say farewell to a dying friend muses the following:
“He had learned that it was the smallness of people that filled him with wonder and tenderness. The world was made up of people putting one foot in front of the other; and life might appear ordinary simply because the person living it had been doing so for a long time. He could no longer pass a stranger without acknowledging the truth that everyone was the same, and also unique; and that this was the dilemma of being human.”
We might revel in celebrating distant heroes and people of specialized commercial talent, but we are surrounded by ordinary people who at times show extraordinary kindness and patience. Indeed, many are unheralded heroes, silently “getting by” through rough times, maybe fearful of the future but not ready to surrender to coincidence.
I saw many of these people during the July 4th holiday.
At a 5K “fun run” I encountered a middle-aged woman who had run the more than three-mile race wearing a pink tutu. She told Ogden newspaper columnist Mark Saal that it was her “cancer survivor tutu”. Most of the residents in her neighborhood signed up for the race to support her, she said. “I ran the whole way. I was slow, but I ran it!”
While swimming, an 11-year old boy asked me if I were acquainted with an online game. I had heard of it, I told him, but I didn’t know much about the game. He explained that the player could build things and seek out food. “Oh, I’m glad that you don’t have to search for food for real,” I said.
“No, but my mom does,” he tells me. “There are a lot of times when we don’t have any food. My dad died and my mom doesn’t make much money. But we have some neighbors who help us out.”
A newspaper account tells of a boy whose only toys were destroyed in a car fire. A policeman investigating the case game him $20 to help replace them ... an elderly woman tells me that her doctor gave her six months to live. That was six years ago and she joyously begins every morning by grabbing her cane and walking half a block. (“My kids are afraid I’ll fall, but I’d dry up if I stayed in the house and never did anything,” she says.) ... a former student moves to Italy. He knows very little Italian, but he wants to experience an adventure ... a restaurant cook tells me he works three part-time jobs. (“My mother is handicapped and cannot work,” he tells me. “It is my place to support her.”)
Ordinary people, some wearing a kitchen apron and some wearing a tutu. Ordinary people putting one foot in front of the other and seeing what tomorrow brings. Americans can produce hatred, but thankfully the haters are the few and the futile. America is also filled with people who care about other people, willing to voice optimism and sometimes extend a “leg up” to a struggling child or family.
That’s the message I received from this past Fourth of July.