Back in March of this year, I pulled into the gas station, parked, and fell apart.
COVID was upon us. Everything was slowing down, shutting down, and everywhere you looked, there was another voice telling you what you should do, think, and feel. Like most of us, I was skeptical, confused, and scared. I was still working as a home health speech therapist, but truthfully, I spent most of that week buying rolls of toilet paper for $5 from gas station bathrooms for my homebound patients who had run out and had no means of getting more. While I tried to convince myself to keep it together, a car pulled into the spot next to mine with the radio blaring. The driver, who was an African American woman, hopped out without turning the car off and I started to roll my windows up, but then I heard the song she was playing:
“There comes a time,
When we heed certain call.
When the world must come together as one…”
I stopped trying to keep it together and fell apart, good and proper. I must have been crying but I was also singing. When the song abruptly stopped and started over at the beginning again, I looked over to see the driver standing by her door smiling at me. She said, “I see you sister. It’s gonna be OK. Just sing through it.” She turned up the volume until I thought the side panels would rattle right off of that little Hyundai. I got out and we stood in that parking lot, wearing masks and gloves, crying, swaying, laughing, reaching for each other, and singing:
“We are the world.
We are the children.
We are the ones who’ll make a brighter day, so let’s start giving.
There’s a choice we’re making.
We’re saving our own lives.
It’s true we’ll make a better day, just you and me…“
When the song ended, she said, “Thank you, sister. You’ll never be a stranger to me and I wish I could hug you.” I couldn’t speak, just covered my heart with my hands and nodded. “I know,” she said, “We’re going to make it through. Keep on singing, keep on loving.” Then she got into her car, hit repeat, and drove away. I cued up the song, rolled down my windows, and did the same.
March was a million years ago. Sometimes when I look around, I hardly know where I am anymore. There is so much noise in the world, we’re all scrambling to be heard. Every difference has become a division, every argument an ultimatum, every wound mortal. We’re riding a wave that doesn’t have a shore and are caught in a wind that doesn’t have a direction. The more I talk about it, ask questions, and seek answers, the more fearful I am that we will never get through this whole. For all of the conversations I have had and the soul searching I have done in the past several months, I cannot articulate a single sentence that everyone will agree with. Here’s the good news: words don’t matter. Actions always prove why words mean nothing. There are a lot of people who are remembered for their words, but only when those words stood for something they did with their time here on earth – good or bad- and action is what facilitates change. Mother Theresa said, “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” Why is that true? Because love is a verb. It is rooted in simple, consistent action and it is catching. If we all agreed to “love through it” like my sister in the parking lot, we might just get somewhere.
“We can’t go on pretending day by day
That someone, somehow can soon make a change.
We are all apart of God’s great big family
And the truth, you know, love is all we need.”
Just seven months ago, seemingly on the verge of World War III, there was a growing sense of anticipation and fear. We watched our soldiers board a plane under a blue sky, not knowing if they would come home, and all I could be was proud and grateful. I sat down, fell apart, and wrote it down. Those words spread so far and so fast, not because I was right or wrong, but because so many people could feel them. We were all ready to come together again, not because we agreed, but because we were humbled by the willingness of those who chose to go – to serve and defend. Unity is needed most when you stand on the precipice of losing what you hold most dear. I have sat shoulder to shoulder with the bravest women I’ll ever know, holding hands, waiting to hear which one of us is going to lose it all. Let me tell you this truth – in those moments, we breathe as one, we cry as one, our hearts beat in sync, and no one lets go. It never mattered what color the hand I was holding was, because that hand was my hand and my hand was hers. Unity. It is the only way to heal wounds that are un-healable.
Whatever you believe in, the story is the same. We are all here on purpose with a purpose. We are all different – we have gifts that were meant to heal the flawed and broken world we live in. It is through our gifts – our actions – that we bring about change. We have work to do. We can do better. Lucky for us, we live in a country where we are afforded the FREEDOM to love our families, love our neighbors, and work hard for change.
So here’s looking at you, America.
The lens is foggy and distorted, but I know you’re still there.
I can feel your freedom in my bones and your hope in my heart.
I believe in you, America. I believe in us.
WE have the power to make change possible.
WE can take action in our homes and our communities.
WE can speak up and take care of each other.
Those freedoms are the gift.
STAND UP and BE THE CHANGE.
Be the kindness and acceptance and help and equality and hope that you want to see in the world.
Be the stranger in the parking lot that turns up the volume and sings you through it.
THAT IS AMERICA.
“When you’re down and out, there seems no hope at all.
But if you just believe there’s no way we can fall.
Let us realize
That a change can only come
When we… stand together as one.”
2 thoughts on “THAT IS (still) AMERICA.”
Great essay for today, Katie. Praying you and yours celebrate a wonderful Independence Day and also that our flag may always wave for freedom, peace, and one nation Under God.
This is beautiful Katie. Thank you for sharing.
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