“I ok”

On the afternoon of Tuesday, January 6, I was returning to Richmond from Summerfield, North Carolina. 

Since Sunday, my wife and I had been helping out our oldest daughter and her family as she recovered from out patient knee surgery.

I was east of Danville on U.S. 58, when I picked up the first radio news reports about the turmoil in Washington, D.C.

At first, my ears could not believe what I was hearing. Every mile unfolded more chaos and concern.

There was a rawness to these news feeds and sound bytes. Reporters struggled for accuracy and confirmation in the unraveling.

Emotions ran through my heart and mind. 

I was saddened, disappointed, and quite honestly disgusted.

Even before the arrival of 2020, America has been festering for a long, long, long, long time.

In all honesty, we should not have been surprised by what occurred on January 6. This is another day of infamy when we pushed our freedom to its limits and attacked our democracy.

As an American, I failed. 

Over the last four years, I failed to use my voice to directly speak out against a president who clearly incited the mob who rioted on Wednesday afternoon.

Why did I fail—fear. 

Fear that I would lose friends, fear of what people would think of me, fear of how my family might be hurt, fear of how my speaking out could impact my work, fear, fear, fear, fear.

And in that fear is division, a division in America that is as sharp and dangerous as the dullest knife in your kitchen.

Whether we want to admit it or not, division has always been healthy in America. We continue to struggle with division. It is an open wound, a wound that appears immune from treatment.

If we allow our division to continue, we are dead—dead.

My father was a good, decent, God fearing man. 

He observed early on that I had a bad temper. I was a poor sport in athletic participation, and also as a fan if a favorite team lost a game to a rival.

In those instances, my father never raised a hand to combat my unacceptable behavior. With a gentle, but firm dignity he told me if I wanted to continue to participate in sports or to watch sporting events on television or in person— that I had to change. 

It will not be easy, but America—you, me, we, us must change.

Tom Hanks is my favorite actor

There is a scene in the movie Castaway that is pure terrifying chaos.  

Hanks who is portraying a Federal Express employee is a singular passenger on a Federal Express jumbo cargo jet. Out over the ocean, the plane encounters significant turbulence from a massive storm. 

The plane can’t handle this stress. The pilots lose control. The plane crashes. Somehow, Hanks is the only survivor in the descent, impact, and the fury of the storm in the ocean.

Wednesday afternoon was pure terrifying chaos in Washington, D.C. 

This was real life, not a Hollywood script. And yet, somehow, someway, I want America to be like Tom Hanks in that movie. I want us to survive our division, our chaos, our fears.

I want America to be like our two year old grandson after he takes a tumble. He looks up at me and states: “I ok.”

We have lots of work to do in America for us to be able to say: “I ok.”

As I drove, I thought—I wonder what God thinks about all of this?

Well, I think God has known for a long, long, long, long time that America  was in trouble. 

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that we have for many, many years been pushing ourselves away from God, religion, church, kindness, and love.

Heck, church people, like myself, are even divided in how we view God’s teachings in the Bible. We can’t agree on how we interpret these teachings. And, truthfully these disagreements have contributed to our division.

I wonder why we can’t be drawn to these words from Isaiah, Chapter 1, verses 16-17: “Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice.”

As my old Toyota Highlander pushes north on U.S. 360, I marvel on this sun drenched afternoon at the stark, bare beauty of the forest on both sides of the highway. 

Winter clears the trees of their leaves. Even the undergrowth at the edge of these forest and at the base of the trees is tempered back by exposure to frost on cold mornings.

The trees stand tall, erect, basking in the late afternoon sun. Their trunks and limbs fully exposed.  Nothing is hidden. They appear so peaceful, free from turmoil as the sun begins to slowly sink in the west.

To move America forward, we must be willing to peer deeply into America with an unobstructed view. 

We must see with a clarity that exposes every fault, every division, every festering wound, every hurt, every social injustice,  every fear.  

Our hope and prayer must be to do this without any hesitation.

When I arrived at our home, I unloaded my car, and then I worked to set up my computer for a Zoom call with our college pals.

With out question, the events of the afternoon came up in our conversation. But as we were winding down, the topic of mental health came up. Our mental well being is so important, but as we all know—it is often overlooked.

During 2020 our individual and collective mental health has faced multiple challenges: COVID-19, social injustice, natural disasters, a contentious presidential campaign, and now at the very beginning of 2021 an insurrection fueled by a president unwilling to accept his defeat in the election.

In this thing called life, that is a lot of baggage.

And that baggage doesn’t even take into account all of the other stressors people face.

In a recent interview on the CBS program Sunday Morning, comedian Chris Rock talked about some of his baggage with the show’s co-host, Gayle King. 

When King asked Mr. Rock what was “the hardest truth” to learn about himself during his mental health therapy, he stated: 

“Sometimes I wasn’t kind,” said Rock, “and sometimes I wasn’t listening, and sometimes I was selfish.”

Sadly, I think wasn’t kind, wasn’t listening, and being selfish captures America’s current challenges.

As an American, I want me and my country to be kinder, to be better at listening, and to be less selfish.

I want America to be able to say “I ok” not for me, but for its future.

And even though Wednesday afternoon was ugly, hurtful, and unacceptable, I’ll hang on to hope.

Hope that our hearts will collectively say—enough.

Hope that our hearts learn from all of this. 

Hope that our hearts will work to rid ourselves of our division.

Hope that we want a future where we can all say, “I ok.”

God help us.

Photo by Bill Pike

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