Today is the last day of 2017. It’s been a strange year.
I feel like we’re living in some Bizarro World version of America.
It’s as if one day we will wake up and realize this was all just a bad dream. A year ago I thought, “Well, I lived through eight years of W, I’ll get through this.” I didn’t think it would affect me personally, but it has. It does, every day.
I live in Irvine, a diverse suburban community in which less than half of the population is white. A multitude of languages can be heard in my apartment complex and most of my son’s friends and classmates are first or second generation immigrants from all over the world. I am grateful that he has the opportunity to grow up in this neighborhood, but I can’t help but wonder, on occasion, how I am perceived by my neighbors. In Orange County, over two-thirds of my demographic – white males over 55 – voted for Trump. I am not one of them, but you can’t tell just by looking at me. I can’t wear my Barack Obama “Miss Me Yet?” t-shirt every day.
As I take my daily walk around the lake near my home, I pass by people of different ethnicities and I find myself speculating as to whether or not they see a Trump supporter. That bothers me. Those thoughts didn’t occur to me a year ago, but they do now. I can’t help it. Of course, the fear of being perceived as racist is, in fact, a manifestation of my own racism. I understand that. The question is what can I do about it?
I was pondering this the other day while I was walking. I don’t plug in when I walk. I prefer to clear my head. I was looking down, focused on my stride, conscious of avoiding duck excrement, when I heard the voice of a child say, “Hi!” It was almost jarring. But when I looked down and saw a cheerful toddler being pushed in a stroller, a smile broke across my face and I replied, “Hello!” The smile lingered another thirty seconds or so, and was shared with the next few passersby.
And then something dawned on me. I never greet people when I walk. I keep to myself and rarely make eye contact.
People are just obstacles to be navigated. I’m a natural introvert, but I do respond politely if someone engages me. So I tried an experiment. On my next circuit around the lake, I deliberately sought to make eye contact with strangers and give them a smile, a nod, or a word of greeting. Remarkably, or perhaps predictably, nearly every recipient of a friendly gesture responded in kind. It was wonderful to watch their faces change. And I realized I had stopped wondering about what they think of me.
Tomorrow is the first day of 2018. I resolve to smile more. Love trumps hate. Kindness trumps fear. Civility trumps hostility. I wish you all a Happier New Year.
For breakfast this morning I had a French vanilla Medifast shake, as I will every morning for the foreseeable future.
Editor’s Note: Time-based statements have been maintained to reflect the date this blog was written, rather than the day it has been published.