I am a believer in signs, and all signs pointed to say something now. I haven’t said much about what is going on in the world, not because I don’t see the problem but because I’m afraid I’ll say something the wrong way. All I want is for things to be better. I don’t want to discuss the supposed politics around a pandemic or looting as there is something more sinister. The final straw was drawn when my son asked me to read “The Last Stop on Market Street” by Matt de la Peña before bed; a story about a grandma (Nana) and her grandson (CJ). They’re the perfect pair as they navigate their day and she shows him where to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. Early in the story, CJ complains about the rain and Nana reminds him that trees need to drink – “can’t you see the big one drinking through a straw?” Simply put, we’re all living things and we all need to be safe, seen, fed, heard, understood and celebrated for our uniqueness. The tree may appear to just be, but in reality, it is drinking up what it gets from its surroundings. Humans do the same.
As Nana and CJ ride the bus, a man with a seeing eye dog boards the bus and CJ asks why the man can’t see. Nana asks him, “Boy, what do you know about seeing? Some people see the world with their ears.” The man replies, “That’s a fact. Their noses, too” as he sniffs the air and tells Nana she smells good. She opens herself up to discomfort by acknowledging what is different instead of ignoring it because it could be hard to talk about. Children are naturally open, we teach them to be closed off when they ask uncomfortable questions and we shush them.
As the story comes to an end, Nana and CJ exit the bus and walk to a soup kitchen to volunteer when CJ mentions what he considers to be a flaw in the city – dirt. As they near the soup kitchen and start seeing familiar faces, CJ is reminded what makes this particular place beautiful – the people and the fellowship. Nana says dirt can make us “a better witness for what’s beautiful”. It seems so simple a principle for someone young like my son to grasp – proof that as we age, we develop more and more “isms” which are typically derived from ignorance.
Perspective is not something we can grasp if we refuse to listen to one another’s stories. If we’re not drinking up a new lesson given to us by another, we fail ourselves as well as them. Nana and I are one in the same; I want to know, understand, and learn about everything and everyone – that requires discomfort. It also requires our instructors to be open and unoffended if something said requires a “do-over”. My sister once told me when I realized my husband wasn’t a wordsmith (as he puts it), that when there is a disagreement, the ability to try again and ask further questions needs to be readily available AND without consequence. If we are going to make progress in this fight for the human race, every race needs to be able to speak openly about their feelings and ask questions in a safe environment. I really do feel a trip to away from your norm or to another country is a great way to gain understanding, hence my interest in making experiences abroad more readily available. Getting out of our routine lives and involved in a safe learning experience allows us to break through the bias and become a better witness for what is beautiful.