Hope and Despair in the Latter Days: Reflections on a Trip to Los Angeles

Last Monday, I awoke with a buzzer in my head: I needed to see my daughter in LA.  I needed to see my son, as well; he was preparing to leave LA for Oregon.  I had one last chance to see them both in the same place at the same time before change happened again.  So, I went online and purchased my tickets.  Tuesday morning, I was at the OAJ Regional in Jacksonville, NC.

Traveling from coast to coast can be harrowing.  There are connections and nerve-jangling walk-runs through crowded terminals.  One is forced out of the comfort zone.  Suddenly, one is surrounded by all different kinds of people, all colors of people.  There are smells of different folks, sounds of different languages.  There are families one does not know with different lives and textures, different beliefs and traditions.  For a small-town North Carolina girl, it can be a heady and frightening brew. In our present political climate, it can be terrifying.  I found myself running from a conservative talk show blaring over a speaker in Atlanta, and then I caught myself:  I decided to take a break from the political war in which we find ourselves.  I decided to look around me and judge without commentary or opinion from others.

On the flight from Atlanta to LA, I sat in the window seat next to two African-American ladies who were traveling to see relatives.  They were so nice to me as I schlepped back and forth endlessly to and from the toilet.  We shared our fear of flying, and they had kind and reassuring words throughout the journey.   In LA, I was picked up on the sidewalk at LAX by my beautiful daughter, and we headed into the crazy wonder of the wild and beautiful City of Angels.

As my daughter masterfully guided us through the lanes of speeding vehicles, I drank in the sights.  How beautiful are the gleaming skyscrapers of LA!  I felt like the proverbial “country mouse” as I took photo after photo of the downtown area.  Such colors, shapes, and sounds.  I beheld the fancy townhouses that have caused controversy, because of their “elevated walkways” that allow well-heeled residents to avoid altogether any interaction with the homeless or the dirty.  I beheld the freeway encampments that festoon the byways of Los Angeles.  Unlike the last time I visited, for some reason I saw a strange beauty in those encampments.  Instead of looking at the “homeless” as some sort of blight, I heard an inner voice telling me that they, too, were sacred souls on a journey.   I thought of these people living on the verge of a gleaming city, and I was awakened to the fact that I had absolutely no right to judge them.  I had no right to make any assumptions.  My only obligation was to recognize their humanity and hope they, too, would recognize mine.

We made our way through the miles to North Hollywood to the quaint and diverse neighborhood which had been my daughter’s home for several years.  Again there were colors, sounds, smells, and abundance of houses of worship, studios, homes, and apartments.  As we exited the car, I heard a woman speaking on the phone in Spanish.  It was lovely.

For a late lunch, we went to a wonderful brewery/restaurant–both dog and child friendly.  I sat in a relaxed patio area and watched a young mother enjoy a meal while her daughters played.  There was a young man with a dog.  We ate meatless lunches that were filling and delicious.  The air was hot and the mountains beyond the freeway shimmered in 101 degree heat.  Hot. Dry. Beautiful.  Again, this was so different from my beloved North Carolina!  There were different sounds, different colors, different smells!  Different and differently beautiful.  I ate my lunch and enjoyed this newness, this new landscape and tapestry of humanity.

The next morning, we went to our favorite bakery, Porto’s.  There, I experienced hospitality and excellence.  Families ate together.  I heard at least two languages other than English.  I heard the music of humanity, and it was beautiful.  I saw people of so many varieties that I began to forget about all the differences and saw only HUMANNESS.  We were all humans, enjoying our mango turnovers, coffee, and loved ones.  Everything was different here; everything was exactly the same.

All too soon, it was time for me to return to North Carolina.  Again, there was the airport dance–strenuous and powerful. Again, there were people who were so different from me–women in lovely sarongs, a lady with a fabric head wrap, young men traveling alone, young professional-looking women walking with confidence and purposefulness.   There were white, black, brown, quiet, loud, happy, sad, laughing, and angry humans all around.  We were all different–so different as to be unique–yet we were all exactly the same: HUMAN.

On the flight back to Atlanta, I looked out the window and beheld the magnificent America–desert and mountain, neighborhood and wilderness.  My heart filled with love and longing for all the bounty of the American feast.  How can we be so at odds with each other over race and class and philosophy and religion?  How is it not enough that the earth sustains us, that we work and play and live and die under the same sky and stars?  How is it not possible for us to live as ONE HUMANITY?  How is it not the responsibility of every American to fulfill the promise of freedom and the promise our founding made to humanity?

We were forged of blood and a desire for a higher ground, a city on the hill, a place where justice and mercy were partners–not adversaries.  As I flew east, I thought of the sorrow and heartache I have seen since 2016.  I remember a story told by a former teaching colleague.  He spoke of how after Trump was elected, hispanic students in his classes were crying, despairing, and fearing for their futures in a country that was turning back toward the old familiar tropes of white racism.  I wondered what President Trump would feel if he knew his rhetoric had destroyed the spirits of all those who did not fit into his vision of a “great” country.  I wondered and I mourned.  Yet, somewhere on that flight East, I lost a sense of despair that I had begun to cling to like and old baby blanket.  I remembered the sweet ladies on my flight to LA.   I thought of the daughters playing at the restaurant, I imagined a homeless person awakening to a hot desert morning, drinking in the dry desert air and rejoicing to be alive.  I thought of the smells, sounds, colors, beliefs–all different, all exactly the same.

It is time for us to wake up.  It is time to turn off the opinions of trolls and enemies of freedom and peace who have set us against each other.  It is time for us to stop hating, to stop fearing, to stop judging, to stop categorizing.  There is one category: HUMANNESS.  It is the Holy Purpose of the American Experiment to lead a world in dire need of leadership into a new age of humanity.  We can’t let one man, one party, one backward-thinking juggernaut destroy the fabric of a land woven out of dreamers and entrepreneurs and workers and movers and shakers from every nation on this earth.

I touched down in Jacksonville, NC glad to be home but completely transformed by my spontaneous and intense encounter with the different, with the same.  I became human again, and I am going to fight to retain this reborn identity.  “A new commandment I give unto you: that you love one another.”  So shall I live.






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