Wednesday, November 9, 2016

An Umbrella in the Rain

A few weeks ago, I passed a young woman standing at a bus stop in the pouring rain. From the vantage point of my dry mini-van, I looked out in dismay as she was soaked by the downpour. Reflexively, I reached down and grabbed the extra umbrella stashed in the driver's-side door. But the young woman was on the opposite side of the street, the light was green, and traffic was moving fast. There wasn't any way to get to her with the umbrella unless I turned around and went back, which was a complicated proposition on this particular stretch of road. I drove on.

I shared the experience with my Sunday school class the following week, where we were discussing following Jesus' example of compassion in the world. I was dismayed that I hadn't made a great effort to respond to the woman's need.  Our participants listened kindly, and a visitor to class assured me that it would be impossible to act on every compassionate impulse.

Fast forward to today. Anyone who knows me or reads my Facebook posts knows that I am one of those who are reeling in disbelief and distress at Donald Trump's victory in the electoral college. As I drove around doing my errands, once again in the pouring rain, I was mulling things over: the Clinton concession speech, the Facebook posts I had been reading, the conversations I'd had with my children surrounding the election.  In my distraction, I almost missed noticing a young man walking down the street, with a soaked hoodie unable to withstand the downpour. I was past him before my thoughts pulled away from the election to focus on him.

No way. No way was I missing out on this chance again!  He had been walking on the sidewalk in the opposite direction from me, on the same side of the street. To get back to him, I had to drive around the corner and turn around in a side street.  Back out to where he was walking, I was now on the opposite side of the street. I laughed out loud, saying to myself, "Poor guy, I'm literally chasing you down." I turned around in another side street, and finally caught up to him. Grabbing the umbrella and slowing the car, I called out the window, "Sir, will you take this?"  He told me "Thanks," and I saw him pop it open in my rear-view mirror. I was flooded with emotion. It's been an emotional kind of day.

When you share a "good deed" you've done, you run the risk of looking like you're asking for some kind of "high five" for what a great person you are. Instead, I'm sharing it because it occurred to me that these kinds of small deeds, done daily by the millions, will be a way to secure the fabric of our nation in the absence of moral leadership in our government.

Throughout the presidential campaign, I heard and saw our President-Elect target, insult, mock, and threaten various groups, including women, immigrants, Muslims, refugees, the disabled, and Mexicans, both through his current-day words and actions and in his words and actions over the years. These observations led me to fear throughout the campaign that under his leadership, our country would move even further from our national ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (for all but a limited group). When roughly half of our country does not find it necessary to hold our highest elected official to a rather basic standard of human decency, then the future of our country appears grim.

[Because I see again and again in the Bible that God does not protect His people from their mistakes, and that He usually allows us to live out the consequences of our poor choices, my concerns for our short-term future are not assuaged by my ultimate and foundational faith in His goodness and love. Yes, I believe that God will ultimately work all things for good, according to His plan. But I also know that the path to getting there could get very uncomfortable.]

On Facebook today, I suggested that we give ourselves a day to wallow in our disbelief, but then engage in proactive efforts to prepare ourselves for the future, to protect our brothers and sisters who have been targeted and threatened, and to represent the values and beliefs that have not been prioritized in this vote. I wrote that while I don't have a "To Do list" of what needs to be done, I hope I can help to develop one and to begin to carry it out, rather than waiting around to watch new leadership wreak havoc on our country's progress.

My "umbrella in the rain" experience clued me in to a starting point, though. Our call to action might have to get big and ambitious FAST to respond to our new circumstances, but for now, my answer lies in small acts of kindness, one person to another: acts of kindness between people of different sexes, ages, genders, races, social groups, religions, political viewpoints, economic levels, and any of the other demographic divisions we have created for ourselves.

Whether it's a smile, a door held open, a heavy grocery bag loaded into a car, a sincere compliment, a moment of conversation, or an umbrella in the rain, these small acts of civility that create a point of connection--human being to human being--are the starting point of holding ourselves together when roughly half of us fear that we as a nation are going to fall apart.

Can such small acts possibly matter? I say, yes. As Howard Zinn wrote, "We don't have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world." We can't afford to waste any more time crying, moping, or passive doomsaying.

Grab your extra umbrellas and get out there!



  1. This was a beautifully written post. Today, pulling up to a NJ Turnpike toll booth, I exchanged few words with the woman taking the fee. I said something about how nice it was to see such a smiling face. She said "Well, you smiled at me so I smile at you. It's what makes my day blessed." Oh, if we could all take time to remember to make even the smallest of connections! Thank you for writing this!

  2. Thanks for such an important reminder, Andria. Beautifully said!


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