All Still People

Today, with much trepidation, I prepare for the third and final Presidential debate of 2016. Yes, I said prepare. The need for this became glaringly obvious 10 minutes into the first debate a few weeks ago when I felt a sudden wave of nausea rush over me, realized that I was experiencing a severe tension headache, and acknowledged that the nearest liquor store closed approximately 15 minutes prior. I have not made that same mistake since. My preparations now include: enjoying a 90-minute massage or hot bath, eating a light dinner, and opening a new bottle of wine. I also make sure my laptop is open with no less than eight tabs with which to “fact-check” for myself.

I will also admit that since that first debate, I have been suffering from PDSD, or “Post Debate Stress Disorder” (that has to be a thing, right?). I recognized the symptoms right away, some more severe than others. They included: night terrors, headaches, general malaise, the desire to shout out “America is already great! But clearly not perfect!” to everyone I saw, and idyllic thoughts of running away to a tropical island where no one had ever uttered the words “ISIS, emails, Putin, pantsuit, wall, ‘feel the Bern’, blue dress, or deplorables”. Since just before the second debate, I’ve added a few more words to that list: “locker room banter”, rigged, rapist, Wikileaks, and the dreaded “p” word. Remember… I said idyllic thoughts!

I began this essay by writing, “Today with much trepidation…”. Trepidation isn’t a word I use often. Generally, there isn’t much that causes me to worry or become anxious. But over the past few months, that has changed. I worry a lot now. My heart is very heavy for anyone and everyone in this country who is “different”. And in case there’s any confusion… that’s EVERYONE in this country. Like it or not, we are all different. As much as some like to profess we are all the same, in reality, it is our “differentness” that is much more apparent. And lately, much more at the forefront of public (and private) conversation. It’s our ability to live side-by-side in this country while acknowledging (but not focusing on) our differences that makes us Americans… that makes us great… and that until recently, makes us good people. No doubt, “differentness” will always exist. But in the end… we are ALL STILL PEOPLE… no more, no less.

Let’s talk about “different” for a moment. I am a short, white, blonde, Southern-bred, Protestant-raised woman who has lived in New Jersey for almost half my life. Are you? Then we are different. My son is a 25-year-old, California-born, New Jersey-raised musician/sound designer who lives with his uniquely wonderful girlfriend that he had to travel to Florida to find. Does that describe YOU? Then you and he are different. My oldest daughter is a tall, blonde, 21 year old college senior, majoring in Social Work, who is in a relationship with a very tall Nordic-looking, New York-bred, soon-to-be soldier. Sound just like you or someone in your family? Again… she is different. And did I mention we are all NY Jets fans? (That alone should set us apart, right?) See where I’m going here? We are ALL different AND we are all still people

When I say my heart is heavy for everyone who is different in this country, I truly mean… my heart is heavy for EVERYONE. In my 51 years, I have gained family and friends who are as varied as snowflakes. I have people in my life (and I am not referring to Facebook or Instagram friends by the way) — I mean real live people — who are originally from America, Sweden, London, Australia, Ireland, Germany, Jamaica, Japan, Cuba, Canada, France, India, Russia, and I’m sure elsewhere. Some practice the religions of their youth, others converted to a new religion at some point, and some have no religion at all, but a deep sense of spirituality. More differences I guess, huh? Some are old, some young. Some are Republican, some Democrat, and yes, some are even Independent. Some are passionate and some are passive. Some are positive, while others are negative. Some are highly educated, some are moderately educated, and some just flat out hate school. But regardless of any of those qualifiers, they are all still people. And in a very selfish way, I like to think of them as MY people. My “group”. My big ol’ bag of crazies that lift me up and laugh with me (and sometimes at me), that cry with me when the time is right, or that just exist in my world and make it better for their presence. And every now and then… they can even really piss me off. But that’s when I’ll sit and stew over another glass of wine, and before long, it’s (mostly) forgotten.

I worry about my group. But guess what… I worry about your group, too! As a matter of fact, I worry about AMERICA’S group! The ones that lift it up, rejoicing and praising it for all that is good (and there is PLENTY to praise), for those that cry with it when it is hurt and suffering (and there is plenty to cry over), and for those that just exist… making this country better, just by being here. Now more than ever, it is so very important for us to lift each other up. Yet when I turn on the TV, the radio, the computer, whatever, the tearing down seems to far outweigh the lifting up.

I work in educational administration and recently I spent an afternoon at a picnic with roughly 200 families. At various times during the afternoon I had the opportunity to play, walk, and talk with many of the children who attended. Every now and then, I was even showered with hugs and squeezes from some of the youngest children. These are MY children (no, not biologically). These are MY people, MY group. With names such as Maddie, Liam, Diego, Kai, Sena, Anton, Chelsea, Batisse, Nate, Hana, and Naya, you can guess that I have my own little Model UN… my own little sampling of this great country right under my nose. And you would be right. However… I guarantee that if you were to try to guess gender and ancestry of the children bearing those names, you’d be dead wrong 95% of the time. And what does it matter? They are all still people. These children are ALL OF OUR people — yours, mine, everyone’s! They are, after all, the future of our country!

I often complain about certain aspects of living in New Jersey (e.g., cost, traffic, rudeness of some), but currently I see this as an advantage to other locations, I guess. You see, in the almost 22 years that I’ve lived in this state, I’ve witnessed my own children grow into tolerant, selfless, caring young people who do not see race or socio-economic status as a divider; although as my older two are young adults, they have become very aware of the unfortunate “categories” people are often placed into. When my 25-year-old tears up as he relays a story of using his last $10.00 to buy Subway for himself and a homeless man in Florida, or when my 21-year-old breaks down while telling me about a home visit to a trailer park in Virginia to assess a young child with possible Autism, or when my teenager becomes excited over a class car wash where the proceeds will go to a local orphanage because “those boys don’t have parents to take care of them” like she does and she wants to help, I am again reminded that we are all still people. And beyond that, I am reminded that when it comes to the heart and the perspective of my children, others (of all ages and political affiliations) could learn a BIG lesson. And the lesson my children could teach us is that they totally get that we are all still people. That’s what we are in their eyes — all people, all equal, all flawed, all talented, all with possibilities.

Because the future of our great country will one day (not too far down the road) rest in the hands of today’s young people, I pray that everyone will vote with OUR children in mind. That people realize that their vote is for the good of all people… I pray every day with my whole being that the results of this election are driven by the clear heads and the open hearts of the people of this country who truly understand what it means to be free and equal; not the right- or left-wing media, or the constant Twitter rants, or the emotion-filled Facebook posts, or the extremists on either side. Passion is one thing; hatred is something completely different. That is not who we are. We are better than that. We are greater than that. And in the end, we are all still people.

So as I “prepare” for tonight’s last debate, which I will watch in its entirety, because I prefer to come to my own conclusions after much thought…and unfortunately much research… I will remember that regardless of the insults lobbed, or the mud slung, or the implications aimed, the candidates and their families are all still people. They are not perfect. And they, just like you and I, are “different”. I guess in many ways, I continue to want to see what’s in their hearts…because I already know what’s in mine.