#175: The Toughest Work of All

Magic hour apartment buildings, Willis Tower peaking from behind.
West Loop, Chicago, IL

I’m in Chicago again this weekend. Drove in Friday afternoon, when many were driving out after the Cubs rally. The atmosphere here was noticeably different compared to even two weeks ago. There were more ‘W’ banners hung on balconies and over restaurant doors, and every new billboard congratulated the team on being World Series champs. But even more than that the city seemed to have a convivial intimacy to it – you were happy to see every cubs hat or shirt, and you made a touch more eye contact with strangers on the sidewalk. There was a recognition, and subtle acknowledgement, of some common experience – that we have all been through this one event, and we are all feeling, or have felt, the same kinds of things. Even for a non-Cubs-fan visiting from Detroit, it was palpable.

I imagine that, at least here in the States, we’ll all be feeling something similar this Tuesday and in the days after the election, whatever the outcome. If there is relief and accomplishment, it will be a shared relief and accomplishment. If there is anger and heartbreak, it will be a shared anger and heartbreak. It may be all these things simultaneously. But for a brief window of time, like those two weeks everyone was playing Pokemon Go, we’ll all feel like we understand something of our fellow Americans’ experience.

Right now though – right now I also have a lot of anxiety about this country, and I don’t know that it’ll disappear anytime soon. I watch Louis C.K.’s Conan bit on mothers and fathers, and it feels like America is getting a divorce; this election is just us deciding which parent we’re going to live with. The decision doesn’t change the fact of the separation (or pending separation). It doesn’t change the sense that the arguments have escalated to a point where it no longer feels possible to work things out. The family unit is reorganizing itself.

I don’t want to suggest that I know or have been through this example I’ve been using as a metaphor. But I do know this: conflicts don’t end because one side overpowers the other or proves that they’re right. They end because someone starts actually listening, starts seeing the other person as another human being. Because there is enough love there to want to reach some kind of understanding. Real compassion is acknowledging the life force behind people of all faiths and backgrounds, even Donald Trump. That sounds like a punchline but I’m absolutely serious. Trump is not the enemy. Trump supporters are not the enemy. Hate, intolerance, and egotism are the enemy. The idea of an enemy is the enemy. Every person is a person, often acting on their own fears and insecurities. To actually see that, and connect with it, and in the process connect with our own fears and insecurities, is the toughest work of all.

So where does this leave me? Here, I guess. Sitting at my friend’s dining table in Chicago, trying, again, to listen.