I woke, this morning, in a warm room, in a sturdy home, in a safe city, in a great nation.
Yes, a great nation.
I know that on this day, Election Day, not everyone is feeling this way. I am not so blinded by my privilege that I believe everyone should.
But today, as I made omelets for you and your mother with eggs from our chickens and tomatoes from my mother’s garden and cheese from my friend’s hometown in Oregon, and milk from a dairy just north of here and bacon…
… well, from Costco, I suppose…
… all drawn from a refrigerator running last night, as it does every night, on reliable electricity, and then as I made coffee with safe water from my tap, and danced with you in our kitchen to the song of a Memphis-born musician, and forgot that today was Election Day and then remembered so again, and then drove you to the public school where your mother teaches and you study, your classrooms so close that you can sometimes hear one another over the drone of so many other teachers teaching and so many other students learning, I drove away, past two orange-vested crossing guards and a parade of children and parents walking along public streets to a public school. And in that moment, America was great.
I took Harvey Milk to State, and State to MLK, and MLK to Rio Grande, and wondered as I drove whether Milk and King had ever even stepped foot in Utah and why a street in Salt Lake City is named for a river 700 miles away. (Yes, The Salt Lake Tribune tells me, King was here in 1961. It’s not clear Milk was ever here. And God only knows about Rio Grande Street.)
And God only knows the stories of all of the people who live on Rio Grande Street, in tents when they are lucky and blankets when they are less so and nothing at all when they are even less so. And God knows we haven’t done everything we can to help them, but God also knows there are no right answers to this perfect storm of an opiate epidemic and residual recession and a housing crunch and the damned-if-you-do consequences of pledging to house our homeless, for this has undoubtedly invited more homeless, though God knows we’re trying; imperfectly, we’re trying.
A police officer stopped his cruiser in front of me, jumped out of the vehicle, and walked toward a gray-bearded black man in a frayed brown jacket who was lying on the sidewalk, and instinctively I readied the video camera on my phone for a confrontation, but instead the officer helped the man to his feet, dusted off his shoulders, and gave him a hug.
I know this is not how every interaction goes between police and the homeless of our city. But this is how this interaction goes. And in that moment America was great.
I waited for the train, double-stacked with cargo containers marked by graffiti artists from around the nation, maybe around the world. Waiting on the street by my car was an Indian man on a bicycle and a white woman in tennis shoes, a pair of black pumps sticking out of her handbag. The train rumbled by us all and I flipped through my social media feeds and it seemed as though a softer, kinder tone had suddenly taken over the world of Facebook and Twitter. And I know this is what the algorithms have decided I will see today and I know it won’t last anyway, but I breathed it in for a moment as the last flatcar passed and the gate opened and I saw, on the other side, a motley mix of pedestrians, men and women, all colors, all ages, in dapper suits and tattered coats, stepping across the tracks, heading downtown.
I passed a yellow Volkswagen Beetle and punched myself on the shoulder because you were not there to punch me; such is the frivolity of my life that I play "slugbug" with myself. And I turned my car toward a coffee shop, a local joint founded by a Mexican artist and her activist husband, where to enter one must pass, and one really must stop to read, the words of the poet Francisco X. Alarcon, “there is an Arab within me,” the white vinyl letters on the window proclaim, “who prays five times each day.” Inside, John Coltrane plays. On the wall, over a picture of King and Gandhi, is a wooden sign. “Nobody gets in to see the Wizard,” it says. “Not Nobody. Not No how.” And across from that, on an easel, is a chalk drawing of Prince. Today’s special is a Purple Rain Latte; lavender, white chocolate and vanilla. I ordered my coffee black.
Next to the tip jar on the counter there was a sign; all tips today would be matched and sent to the protesters at Standing Rock. I commended this action, and the woman behind the counter shrugged her tattooed shoulders. “Today seemed like a good day to do something good,” she said. “You know, Election Day and all.” And in that moment America was great.
I do not imagine we cannot be better. I do not imagine we cannot be much, much better. But I do not imagine that believing in the greatness of my nation prevents me from believing we can be greater still.
And I do not know how today will end, but I know we will not leave this day unchanged. And I am sad to know that the nation I fell in love with this morning, all over again, will not be the nation I wake to tomorrow.
But I am confident I will love her still, for this is how love works.