Some make it a practice to look back at regular intervals and identify and evaluate the categories of what has occurred. Besides cataloguing the week’s or the month’s experiences they look for patterns. It helps to decide what deserves a second look. Receipt keepers look at where the money went. Writers listen for echoes and identify themes. Taking a leaf from the writer’s approach, I noted some “echoes” worth sharing.
So, what are the echoes of this early November week just past? They amount to a mixed bag, wet around the edges from braving the rain to walk to the polling place, but still warmed by the memory of my fellow citizens whom I met at the polling place; whose stories I heard and saw. Later, as I learned how the days had played out for the wider web of villages, that broadened my perspective. All of them put my modest walk in perspective.
As I looked at the events and the people they brought to my attention, two seemingly unrelated themes stood out: “Shoe Leather;” and “If not that, then what?” Maybe they weren’t so unrelated, after all. The echoes, originating near and far, stood out in my memory as symbols of what it takes to believe that it is worth the work, the risks and the basic belief in the goodness, courage and resourcefulness of people. Replaying the echoes, I’ve begun to believe that there are people of many places who share something much stronger than gender, geography or party affiliation.
What unites the echoes that linger in my memory of this Autumn 2017 is this unifying theme: the belief that we all have within us, within reach, the confidence that we have the necessary resources to pursue a future better than the past. There’s not nearly enough time to call up all the memories/echoes. A few may invite you to consider whether you see and are heartened by some optimism based on the power of shoe leather and commitment to the truth of the bedrock realism of the often-repeated question, “If not that, then what?”
A young local television anchor moved beyond shock and sorrow to invest heart and shoe leather to knock on the doors of neighbors he knew and others he had never met. He wanted to learn about the hopes of neighbors with whom he said he shared a love of their Appalachian culture. The reward for his investment moved him from his role in a local TV studio where he had witnessed the shocking execution of his colleague and fiancé. It would have been miracle enough if he had chosen to return to the anchor chair. But he was inspired to learn what mattered to his community and to carry those concerns with him to a seat in his Commonwealth’s legislature.
In Tinton Falls, New Jersey a 93-year-old candidate said he wore out two pairs of shoes in the process of knocking on the doors of the neighbors to speak, but more importantly to listen. Disarming them with his candor and commitment, the would-be leader joined his would-be constituency. They rated his approach and the plan based on their hopes and his determination and used the ballot box to give him a four-year term as their Mayor.
A working woman, disappointed with her state legislator’s demeaning dismissal of her dreams decided that it was not enough just to be disappointed. So, she enlisted her fellow workers to help her take the next step. They agreed to exchange schedules so she could invest shoe leather in meeting the people she knew she needed to listen to if she was to learn whether they shared her belief that silence in the face of being written off was not good enough. So, she invoked the “If not that, then what?” approach and at the past week’s election she replaced rather than just regretting the legislator.
A new member of the Virginia House of Delegates put the “If not that, then what?” principle in bright lights when she refused to “go there” for a victory walk past the loser and self-styled “Homophobe in chief.” Instead the new transgender woman legislator honored him and his freedom by wholeheartedly recognizing that with the votes counted, he was not primarily an opponent. She patiently explained that he was first and foremost a constituent whom she campaigned to represent to the best of her ability.
It would be hugely shortsighted to hear these few echoes as partisan or primarily political. Just as it would be to hear the growing revelations of persons who have chosen to reveal the personal toll of suffering the advances of sexual predators. This is an issue of human dignity. And in the spirit of “If not this, then what?” these tragic tales can be a call to recognize and move beyond the weaponizing of power, with all its disastrous results. It will take more than “shoe leather,” but we can hope that it will be a very loud call to wake up to the vital importance of recognizing that primacy of place must be given to irrevocable respect for the singular dignity of the person.
And while it will take more than shoe leather, the lessons of shoe leather and of listening will be valuable. They will encourage us to take a stand on the importance of facing up to sometimes discouraging todays. They must not be allowed to blind us to promise of tomorrows that can be achieved by people of all genders, geographies and partisan preferences willing to invest time, hard work, respect and yes, hope in imagining them.