How Not to Fall Apart When the World Is

With fires, political divisions, and mass shootings—how to not let fear win.

Posted Nov 12, 2018

 Johnhain/Pixabay (CC0)
Source: Johnhain/Pixabay (CC0)

An extremely scary thing happened to me that should be a warning to all of us who are repelled by the outbreak of all the recent mounting hate and violence. I realized that it had changed me into someone I didn't recognize.

With day after day of hate crimes piling up—pipe bombs to Democrats, killing of Jews in a synagogue, shootings of African Americans, and political divisions—like many of you, I felt hopeless and angry at what has become of the United States.

As I was getting in my car, a man in a weird hat with dust all over him approached me and said, “Hi, my name is Jonathan…”

Thinking he was a homeless person hitting me up for money, or worse, was about to rob or hurt me, I turned my back on him.

“I’m sorry, I’m very busy right now,” I said getting into my car.

He continued, “I just wanted to introduce myself. I’m your new neighbor. I own the house a few doors down. I’m doing some work on the house and I hope it doesn’t disturb you.”

For years, I’ve been complaining that my neighborhood was cold, and here was a neighbor coming over to shake my hand and introduce himself to me.  I’d become what I hated—an angry neighbor.

Contrite and embarrassed, I shook his hand and apologized.

Then I went to the bank where I was kept waiting before I could see a business banker. A scruffy looking unshaven man plopped down next to me. I cast him as being “homeless unshaven,” not “hip movie star unshaven.”

“How is your day going?” was his greeting to me.

“Fine,” I responded curtly, turning my back on him.

He then said, “The correct response would be… ‘And how are you?’”

I was struck by what an a**hole I’ve become, suspecting every stranger is after me, my money, my time, my wellbeing. Isn’t that how the alt-right sees immigrants—as unwelcome intruders?

I turned to him and apologized. “I’m so sorry. I’m actually having a horrible day… I’m very upset about what is happening in the world. And it didn’t help that I had to spend the entire morning on hold with Spectrum Cable."

He laughed. That’s when the banker came over and asked the unkempt man what he needed. He said, “I came in to thank you for the help you gave me last week in getting my account open. It was so kind of you and I appreciated it." He then looked at me and said, “I hope your day gets better.”

My day did get better. And it was because of that man.

I’ve heard it said that a “wake-up call” is the bad news about ourselves. And, these strangers woke me up to how I’d allowed the fear all around us to color how I was seeing people. I’d never judged others by their status but had gotten sucked into the black hole of fear and suspicion. That’s not the person I’d been nor who I want to be. That is not what it means to be an American.

We can’t afford to lose our best selves because of what’s been going on. Be strong. Keep trusting. Have courage.