It’s cold and rainy here in Indiana.
The sun has been in hiding for a week now.
This wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the contrast.
A year ago Bernie Sanders won the Democratic primary in my predominantly Republican state. It was not something I thought I would ever see, a Socialist winning Indiana. My friends and I worked very hard for this and lately the contrast between the incredible difference between last year and this year has been weighing heavily on me.
A year ago, at this time, the sun was shining and we were out knocking on doors. The heat was stifling, but we were determined. We would finish our canvassing routes then text back to the campaign center for new addresses. Bernie wasn’t resting and we weren’t either. It was an incredibly exciting time. Hope permeated everything.
But these days hope seems to have eloped with the sun. A madman is in power and the world suddenly seems very dangerous. There is a pronounced and organized shift towards fascism all over the planet. Gay men are being murdered in Chechnya. Drug addicts are facing systematic execution in Singapore. And hope is on the chopping block back here in America.
But I know that there is a heavy price to pay for letting this sadness have its way with me. So I dragged myself into the gym this morning and forced myself to exercise. The gray crept in through the windows, while greater darkness protruded from the televisions mounted all around the gym.
Republican controlled Congress was voting to take healthcare away from our nation’s most vulnerable citizens, while Donald Trump was attempting to provide a smokescreen by signing an executive order that eroded the separation of church and state.
I pushed myself harder. Sometimes exercise helps me keep the darkness at bay. Today was not one of those days. After an hour I gave up and headed to my car.
As I approached the stop light where I usually turn right to go home, I surprised myself and took a sudden left. I knew that my girlfriend, Carrie, would be struggling with her own demons, so I decided that I would take her thrifting. Carrie’s eyes had been red over the past few days and I knew that she was struggling to find her smile. I figured it might be camouflaged somewhere on a thrift-store shelf, cleverly hidden behind VHS copies of E.T. or perhaps tucked in between old Barry Manilow and Lawrence Welk albums. Carrie can find happiness in the tiniest of things and I find tremendous joy in her happiness. We are good for each other this way.
As my car rounded the corner I saw three black youths pushing a stalled vehicle on the shoulder of a busy street. This situation looked to be dangerous. A busy street with decreased visibility could have been a recipe for disaster for these kids, so I pulled my car up behind them and hit my flashers. I had figured that their friend was the one steering the broken down car, but as I approached the vehicle the three youths took off.
The driver was an old white man. I asked him if he was okay and he said he was out of gas. I told him that I was going to push his car up to a nearby gas station and told him to put it in neutral and I’d get him there.
I point out that the man was white for the same reason that I point out that those helping him were black. Because I want to correct the lie that media feeds us, that different races should be afraid of each other. Even though I know this is propaganda designed to keep us afraid and tuned in, still I often catch myself falling for it. And on this day, when my heart was in the valley, thinking about all the hatred and fear that are permeating the planet we inhabit, I needed to see this.
I needed to be reminded that there was colorful beauty in the world on a day when everything seemed so gray.
I started pushing the man’s car and soon a fireman got out of his truck and came over to assist and then another man who was wearing an NRA hat and an American flag T-shirt came to put his weight into the car as well.
Once we got the old man’s car to the pump, I walked back to my own car and continued onto the thrift-store. Carrie and I enjoyed looking around, but as usual, we left empty handed. We don’t really need anything.
When I got into my car and turned the key, nothing happened. My car was dead. As I got up under the hood and attempted to apply my limited mechanical knowledge, I actually thought about how having 19 Bernie Sanders stickers on my car probably made it a lot less likely that anyone would ever stop to help me.
I am often wrong.
After about 45 minutes of working on my car to no avail, a truck pulled up beside me and an Asian man got out with a huge smile. He introduced himself and asked me if it was okay for him to take a look under my hood. He looked for a minute and then said that he had identified the problem. I told him that I was going to have my car towed to the shop, because I didn’t have any tools with me. He said “That won’t be necessary.” and reached into his truck and produced a toolbox.
While he worked he asked me about my Bernie stickers and I told him how I had collected them from different campaign centers all over the country while I was canvassing for the Sanders campaign. He told me that Bernie Sanders inspired him to leave his job in the banking industry and become a full-time mechanic, because, as he put it “Banking was destroying my integrity.”
I told him that I believe our focus has to be on reaching out to people who are different than us and humanizing them by having real life compassionate interactions with those who have differing political viewpoints. He agreed that this was the key and then he said “Start her up.”
My car started right up. As I exited the vehicle I saw my new friend standing there smiling, completely drenched in the freezing rain.
I reached for my wallet and handed him some money.
“No sir.” he said “I couldn’t possibly accept that.”
“I was going to have my car towed to the shop. You just saved me hundreds of dollars.” I said, while pushing the money towards him.
“I didn’t help you for money, Michael. I helped you because you needed help.”
And with that my new friend disappeared into the gray.
And somehow he took my sadness right along with him.