I know this day is coming.
One day, what is left of my brain is going to say to my body—“You can’t go out for a run anymore.”
And when that happens, I will be sad.
When I run, my neighborhood hits me. I see things that I might miss when passing by in a car.
For example, that asphalt road surface appears to be fine as a car rolls over it.
But when I run, I often see a different road surface.
That seemingly smooth surface is sometimes fractured. It has cracks and fissures running in multiple directions.
With more exposure to weather extremes and weight of vehicles, those imperfections will expand. At some point, this will mean a repair or a complete repaving.
Over the last few years, but particularly this year, I have come to view America like that road surface.
We are fractured in multiple ways. This has created a division, a division that appears at times to be almost unrepairable.
Perhaps during COVID-19, you have heard the name Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Dr. Fauci is the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He was appointed as the Director in 1984, and Dr. Fauci has advised six presidents. It seems that during a pandemic, Dr. Fauci’s experience and expertise would have been sought by our country everyday.
But, as Dr. Fauci attempted to do his work and advise to the best of his ability, in August, he announced that he had received death threats. Also, his daughters had been harassed.
Dr. Fauci stated: “Getting death threats for me and my family and harassing my daughters to the point where I have to get security is just, I mean, it’s amazing.”
Dr. Fauci and his family do not deserve this type of treatment. Quite simply, this is wrong.
Maybe in the aftermath of the presidential election, you heard the name Christopher Krebs. Mr. Krebs was the head of the United States government’s cybersecurity agency.
Mr. Krebs, who is a Republican, also received death threats as he made statements defending the work of the agency he oversaw. This critical work was to insure that the election was free from fraud.
One attorney who disagreed with Mr. Krebs’ assessment spoke the following words about him through a national news outlet: “class A moron” who “should be drawn and quartered. Taken out at dawn and shot.”
Mr. Krebs does not deserve this type of treatment. Quite simply— this is wrong.
I’m going to guess that Gus Malzahn, Will Muschamp, and Kevin Sumlin aren’t daily topics of conversation around your house. But, they have something in common.
Each are former college football coaches, and thanks to buy out clauses after they were dismissed from their coaching jobs, all on paper are millionaires.
From Auburn University, Malzahn will receive 21.5 million, Muschamp from the University of South Carolina, 15.5 million, and Sumlin from the University of Arizona a paltry 7.3 million.
Once again, quite simply receiving millions of dollars when you have been dismissed from your job—this is wrong.
Here’s what I want to know—how did we lose our way?
How did we get like this?
Who flipped the switch?
Who reworked the wiring in our brains, hearts, and souls?
How can these situations be acceptable?
Here is the scary part.
A fair number of Americans think there is nothing wrong in these three situations— absolutely nothing wrong. They find these situations to be acceptable.
How can this be?
I always look forward to Rick Bragg’s monthly column in Southern Living. In the November 2020 issue, Mr. Bragg wrote about nurses during this pandemic. He particularly recognized their call to duty and sacrifice. This was in sharp contrast to Americans who have downplayed the virus and refused to follow the recommended protocols. In the last paragraph of his column, Mr. Bragg wrote: “I wish we were smarter.”
I think we can be smarter, I just hope we understand the urgent need to be smarter.
The entrenchment of this stubborn division isn’t how we are supposed to be. We can’t continue this way.
Deep inside us, I think we know this. But, I sense we are reluctant to admit it.
America has always been imperfect. What we need to be doing is figuring out how to improve our imperfections for all Americans.
When I think about Dr. Fauci and Mr. Krebs, if in my career I had threatened a superior or questioned their intelligence, I would have been canned. And guess what, there would not have been a buyout clause in my teaching contract like the three college football coaches experienced.
These words from an environmental report issued by the United Nations caught my attention today: “This new era means that we are the first people to live in an age defined by human choice, in which the dominant risk to our survival is ourselves,” writes Achim Steiner, the UNDP administrator.
While this report focuses on the environment, I’m pretty sure those last eight words cast an accurate snapshot of our struggles at this very moment.
Our selfish, non-compliance of simple protocols has helped the COVID-19 virus to spike out of control, we shamefully disrespect our freedom of speech by boldly threatening those who are trying to help us, and we are seemingly unable to comprehend that the salaries for college football coaches are not rational compared to the real world.
Yes, we are a risk to our own survival.
And yet, I have hope.
On Tuesday afternoon, December 15, I was out for a run. Just as I made a left turn on to Rock Creek Road, I noted six young women, probably high school age, running. They had turned on to Rock Creek off of Forest Avenue.
It didn’t take long for them to catch up to my old sack of bones. Just as the pack was passing me, I shouted out to them: “Hey, thanks for making me feel a lot older than I am.”
And you know what they did, they laughed.
That laughter was priceless. It meant they understood my demented sense of humor.
Then I said, “Enjoy your run, and be safe.”
Without any hesitation, they wished the same for me.
Why did I share that encounter with you?
Well, here’s why.
If we have any chance of surviving ourselves and moving forward, we have to be able to talk, we must also be willing to listen, and we must understand the fractures of the stories inside each of us.
Yes, someday, my brain will say to my body: “Your running days are done.”
As worried as I am about our country, I don’t believe America is done running.
But those fractures, that division have the potential to stop America’s run. America must commit to talking, listening, and understanding.
And there is one more piece to those urgent needs.
Think about this quote from Thornton Wilder: “There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”
I wonder if we can find in our hearts the ability to reasonably talk, listen, understand, and love?
I pray we can.
If Mr. Wilder is correct, we have no choice.
Author’s note: Reuters, NPR, Southern Living, and newspapers in Alabama, South Carolina, and Arizona were reviewed for this posting.