My writing has been blocked for the past couple of months. Some of it has been due to life circumstances. I’ve had so much going on, with a lot of really meaningful work happening at the same time, dealing with personal matters (both challenges and triumphs), and continuing to feel frustrated and slightly faithless at the lack of what I consider to be meaningful, widespread progress in addressing racial inequity and injustice and systemic racism. It’s all taken a toll on me. And when that happens, my writing usually goes on pause.
The difference this time around is that I haven’t let it get me down. (Okay, I haven’t let it get me ALL the way down.) I accepted that something deeper was going on inside of me, and I was working through it. I was figuring it out. It wasn’t ready yet. I wasn’t ready, to bring to the surface — not yet.
Whatever I was working on, it was still percolating. And it hit me. What I was working on, working through, was this election. And if I were giving a final campaign speech, hell, if I were giving a victory speech, I would open it like this:
“It’s time for the percolator.”
People I work with have often heard me in a meeting reference how something is percolating, or that we need to let that topic or discussion percolate a bit.
Some of those people, If I’m feeling ‘specially generous or random, might be blessed with an immediate a capella transition into “It’s time for the percolator,” the 90’s house music ANTHEM by Cajmere, that I feel goes with just about any circumstance that requires even a modicum of contemplation. Light or heavy, funny or sad, my life or yours… if I need to give it a think, it needs to percolate. For me, it means I need to let stuff get to a place where it can bubble up to the surface. It’s not ready until it’s percolating.
And if EVER there was a time to let some things percolate for a bit, it’s right now. Y’all. I’m not gonna front, this is a MAJOR, MAJOR election. The stakes are high for everyone.
And you know what? Whatever the result is, whether it’s Biden or Trump — which we may not know with 100% certainty for days or even weeks (and yes that is stressful and that is generally the process at work so it’s gonna be okay so don’t overreact one way or the other), I have news for you.
We. Have. Work. To. Do.
Let me say it louder.
WE. HAVE. WORK. TO. DO.
This is what I’m percolating on.
What is that work?
It is the work of love, of empathy in action.
So, who, exactly, you may ask, has work to do?
You do. I do.
Because unless you’re ready to give up on this country, we all have work to do.
I know, I know.
Some of you are ready to give up on R’s.
And some of you are ready to give up on D’s.
And a lot of you are soooo ready to give up on people who don’t vote at all, or vote for someone other than the major party candidates.
What if that means you’re literally giving up on us?
You may not believe that we are part of each other, but I swear to you, we are. Because whether you want to believe it or not, the big US, the United States, it’s all of us. The little us gets all the attention. Because the little us is how we define likemindedness. Because that’s where we reinforce our biases, our beliefs. Because if we don’t have something to stand on, then we have nothing, right?
To be clear, that is true. And, we also need to make room for new beliefs.
Like the belief that underneath it all, there is something we have in common.
Like the belief that I can love someone I disagree with passionately and ideologically on EVERYTHING. (Proof: check your last large family holiday gathering.)
Like the belief that I can stand for something without despising the people who I disagree with.
Like the belief that there is something redeemable in practically every human on this earth. It doesn’t always feel that way, especially if the human/s in question embody everything I oppose.
Because the operative phrase there is, “I oppose.”
It’s my framework. That doesn’t make it a universal truth, just my truth. Which is, of course, valid. It’s just not the only thing that is valid.
Is there evil in this world? Yes, I believe that. I can’t explain it, and I struggle with it. And I also know that of the many people we sometimes paint with that broad brush, if we were to look deeply enough, we would find, beyond our righteous indignation and intellectual superiority, that we have things in common with people we despise. That all of us have done things that have hurt others. That all of us made mistakes. That all of us have fallen short of our shared humanity, which is our purpose as humans: to actually be human.
The trick is realizing that even when you’re feeling somewhat generous in your tolerance of others and your forgiveness of their ignorance, you’re not being generous, tolerant or forgiving at all. You’re flexing your righteousness, because that’s how you cope.
That is human.
And to be human is to be perfectly flawed, uniquely capable of possessing what we fondly and sometimes casually refer to as “good” and “evil.”
It is okay to accept and embrace this humanity in others, even when it’s inconvenient. Even when it feels like to do so will be to cleave yourself into two, to go against your own self-interest. To be a hypocrite by somehow cosigning something you clearly have no interest in cosigning.
I am continually coming to terms with the idea that I was born this way, an optimist by nature who is deeply — and I mean, DEEPLY — flawed.
I can’t change who I am, no matter how much I rail against injustice, no matter how much I reject hatred and inequality. I’m a Black man who lives every day with the experience of American racism. I see the hatred and division all day, every day, and it feels like it’s on 100 during this election cycle. And yet, I believe there is a way forward. I believe that that we can do things that lead to restoration and healing. And I am falling more in love with that evolution of myself as the days go by.
Look, I’m voting based on what I believe is best for this country, for my community, my family and my life. And I’m under no illusions that people I know and don’t know who are voting differently from me believe the exact same thing. They think they are doing what’s best, too. As hard as that is for me to understand, I accept that my choices are equally hard for them to understand. So who is right, and who is wrong — and who gets to say?
I know, it sounds like equivocating, doesn’t it? I feel it, and it’s uncomfortable for me, because trust me, I don’t believe there is compromise on good and evil. And on an action-by-action basis, we can typically find enough people who will agree with our assessment of what is good and what is evil to reassure us that we have a half-decent moral compass. Even more, those things that the majority of us agree are indeed evil become our norms as a society, as a culture, as a species, and that reinforces our personal code of ethics, of morality. It seems simple: we see evil, we must confront it. That works great for the things the majority of us agree are evil. But what to do when what I see as good is what you see as evil? How do we reconcile, then?
Even more, how did we get to a place where we feel that so many of the people we share this country with are evil either outright, or because they support things we don’t agree with? How did that happen? If in the eyes of many, nearly half of the population is evil, whatever the definition is, then surely we have already failed and we are doomed. Because that is not sustainable. So either we are Rome, and Rome has fallen. Or we are not Rome, and we can be a civilization that finds a way past what divides us to a place where what unites us can be what heals our divisions. I have no interest in glossing over division and hatred. The wounds I have run deep, and many of them have not yet fully healed.
Some of that is on me.
And some of that is on you.
And some of that is on US.
But I also know I have inflicted wounds on others. And some of those may not have ever healed, either. So how can I go on expecting my wounds to be healed, and not be willing to help heal the wounds of others’, especially those I may have caused?
I am embracing the notion — my truth — that no matter what happens on Tuesday, November 3, 2020, it is neither the beginning nor the end of anything. It is the next step in our journey. As individuals. As family and friends. As a community. As a nation. As humans.
I’m percolating that whatever happens tomorrow is not permanent.
That if I can see you, truly see you and your suffering, and you can see mine, then there is hope for you and for me, and for us. For US. And that could actually be the start of something.
So yes, absolutely, vote. And then, roll up your sleeves and let’s get to work. We have more than just our democracy to protect. We have our humanity to preserve. We have our souls to save, all of them.
I’m percolating that the best of us as Americans, as humans, is not already behind us. I think that we haven’t even seen it yet, and we’ve barely imagined it.
I believe the best in you and in me is truly yet to manifest, to come to the surface — to percolate, if you will.
You and I, division and all, are the union we hope for so dearly. Injustice gives way to justice. Our differences and our sameness elevate one another. Empathy is active. Our stories are a shared narrative. Our contradiction is our truth.
Now, who wants some coffee?