The recent government shutdown dramatized how bitter, even rageful, our political differences have become in the U.S.
The costly dysfunction of that says to me that as a nation we are impoverished in what matters — in this case, the basic ability to coexist and function despite our differences.
Cut to my dinner table a week ago tonight. Our housemate Gary, dying of lymphoma, is sitting across from us. We’ve all pretty much forgotten about the broccoli and macaroni and cheese sitting on our plates, because we’re talking. And grieving. We all know this is our last supper together before he moves to a hospice with 24 hour care.
Gary says, “When I first moved in [in February 2011] I was worried because I could see we were pretty different from each other. But it turned out to not make a difference, after all.”
Gary is referring to belonging to a different political party, and voting differently, than Thor and I do.
I nod. “It didn’t make any difference. ” At this point, that feels like an understatement. My dinner napkin is soaked through with tears. So is Thor’s. But we stay at the table, knowing Gary has just days left. These moments feel luminous, as if shot through with God-light.
The God-light truth is that we are all unified as human beings, all vulnerable to death and loss. In light of that overarching truth, political differences become trivial, like kids on a beach quibbling over a sandcastle that the high tide will soon be washing away, regardless of their opinions.
Gary died early yesterday morning, at a lovely hospice a few miles from here called Martha and Mary’s. He was dollar-poor, in life and in death. But Gary was rich in what mattered: connection to people, God and nature. In his pre-cancer days he’d loved camping and backpacking, and climbed many mountains. He’d had a deep spiritual faith, and been the associate pastor of a close-knit church that nurtured him in his decline. He had not been afraid of his upcoming physical death. He’d had a conviction his spirit would live on.
We in the U.S. need to get grounded in our unity as human beings and citizens. We are all mortal, all vulnerable to death and loss, all needy of each others’ listening and compassion. We need to elect political leaders rich in what matters, i.e. the ability to transcend differences and collaborate, rather than act out in bitter, rageful ways.
I’m reminded of Malala, the young education activist who was shot by the Taliban, has recovered and expresses not anger at them, but deepened commitment to her work. I’m giving away a free copy of her excellent autobiography; here are details on that, and more about Malala.
I’m interested in your thoughts and comments. What helps you to transcend differences of opinion? Or, have you ever been positively impacted by the death of someone?