One of my favorite things about the past few days has been walking by my daughter’s school and seeing the little guys and girls who need a lot of special help in come out of their bus into the waiting arms of their teachers. The teachers scrum around the bus doors like fans at a concert and they grab their charges and hug them and high five them and lead them, smiling, into the building.
Watching this I’m reminded of a few things. First, that these teachers actually exist. People who will help a blind boy read or a quiet girl speak. Who will help a boy who can’t walk well stand on the shoulders of giants. Who will, with patience and will, take a bum deal and turn it around.
And it also reminds me that we’ve finally turned a corner, all of us. The old way of charity was rough, proud, mean. We gave help with our right hands and our left hands knew exactly what was up. I read As I Lay Dying recently and got a taste of it.
“It was her wish,” pa says. “You got no affection nor gentleness for her. You never had. We would be beholden to no man,” he says, “me and her. We have never yet been, and she will rest quieter for knowing it and that it was her own blood sawed out the boards and drove the nails. She was ever one to clean up after herself.”
The old ways were full of gossip and fake charity and fake pride. The country heartland was a place where you stood on your own or you didn’t stand at all. In the cities if you fell they stepped over you in the gutter. You have to clean up after yourself, after all.
That’s what’s happening right now. There’s a subset of old thinkers who believe that every open mouth is a burden. There’s a bigger group who thinks every open mouth is part of a chorus.
They won’t win. Whatever happens in the next ten years will define us as a species. We will either dig out of the holes we’ve selfishly dug for ourselves or we will remain buried. I’m on the optimists’ side, on the side that believes borders will fall between countries and men. On the side that believes that we can afford to be kind.
Everyone needs help. No one is beyond it. Everyone needs a little scrum waiting for them when they find themselves lost, someone to lead the way, hand in hand. To be without this in this confusing future is too terrible to consider.
But to do this we must reform enmity into empathy. We must expect to be uncomfortable as those who seek comfort settle among us. We must forget the old ways, the ways that we used to get out of responsibility for others. Only then will we grow.
I know there are plenty of people already on this path. There are plenty more who are happy with hate.
It’s a messy time. We need someone waiting for us as we take those first few steps into the loud morning light.