“What Do You Care About Right Now?”

About two weeks ago, I did something that I’m frankly really, really, really proud of. So proud of that I’m going to abuse the hell out of some adjectives. I was invited to participate on National Public Radio’s program One Small Step. For about forty minutes, I just talked with a person who was somewhat different from and very similar to me. We shared similar political ideologies (independent voters who vote using common sense). We both care about the humanity of others. The person I interviewed was older than me by about twenty years. He had served in the military and had gone to school during the ending of segregation.

I gleaned so much information from my interview partner.

I think what was important for me, though, was taking this massive leap outside of my comfort zone.

I think I learned about One Small Step in the last six months or so. I was driving to school and listening to Story Corps and I learned through my NPR affiliate that the city I live close to had been selected as a participant for One Small Step: a program that will set up complete strangers to have a conversation. I volunteered thinking “Oh, I’ll never be chosen.” I’ve always been the first loser, the usual rejected one (come on friends….Polishing has been rejected over 120 times). It’s okay to be practical and realistic about one’s life.

What I love about the premise of One Small Step is that complete strangers sit down in a safe place and just talk to one another. We talk about politics. Or life. Or our experiences, our beliefs, our morals. We talk about what we value and what we don’t value and, in the end, we hopefully arrive at a common place. A single stepping stone in which we recognize one another’s humanity. After last year’s divisiveness, the horrors of pre and post election, when people were literally de-friending one another over political beliefs, I needed to find a way to participate in something in which we can remember that we are all human. That each and every person has something within them that is important to behold and lift up and care for.

I got a phone call inviting me to participate about a month ago. I was home. Exhausted. Miserable. I’m teaching summer school and, this round, it just doesn’t have any of the magic. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m just not as invested as I should be or need to be. I’ve had amazing summer school classes. I even have their artwork up in my current classroom because I loved those kids so much. But this summer? No magic. Good kids. Most of the time. But it’s like slogging through thorny mud. I care about the students. I really do. But I’m tired of thorns sticking into my skin.

So, I get this phone call. I ignore it and then listen to the voice mail, the invitation to participate. And I felt like a fragment of my life suddenly had a little bit of meaning. That maybe my greatest purpose in life could finally, in a way, be met. I want to bridge gaps, not dig deeper ditches or manifest greater boundaries. I want to lift up students, help them see their worth and their value, not destroy or denigrate. And I don’t know why being invited to participate in NPR’s One Small Step did that for me.

But it did.

It was weird sitting in my office, talking to a computer screen and seeing two faces in two small boxes framing mine. I spent time pouring over questions to ask, reading my partner’s bio, reading my bio. I thought about what it means to learn about the age of Massive Resistance and the implications those years have had on people. I thought about what I wanted to talk about. My years as an Army brat on military bases. Or my teaching career. Or what I value most.

What do I value most? My family. My writing. My faith. My career. The birdsongs in the morning when I walk my dog. The sound of a tapping keyboard. The humped spines of the mountains in the distance. Clouds rising along a pine tree ridge, tendrils caught in the needles. My daughter’s arms wrapped around my neck while we laugh. My friends and the tenor of their voices. The rich timbre of music, of stories being told by just an average person, the sound of “hello” when the phone is answered.

I sit here, in my office, reflecting on the forty minutes of time I sat on folded over pillow in my office chair because I was so short that they couldn’t see my face. I remember what it was like to feel so awkward to open up my clam shelled memories and pour over them. What do I give? What can be of value?

Each person is of value. Each person has a story within them. A moment of truth. A moment of reality. That epiphany that yields change or growth. Or a moment when the discordant harmonies of different and differing lives sift into a single melody that threads past the divide. I want to be part of that discourse. I want to be the one who listens and hears. And maybe offer a story or two that might teach. Or lift. Or lighten. Or just make someone laugh.

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