Early this morning we arrived home after our whirlwind cross country road trip visiting 7 destinations, in 11 days, with 6 people in tow. Always an adventure, our trip ended with multiple flight delays out of Phoenix while we waited out a desert monsoon. By the time we dragged ourselves into the house this morning at 2am with most of our luggage (the rest we were assured would be delivered sometime today and it was), we were all jet lagged and bone tired. The kids, perpetual early risers, didn’t make a peep until nearly mid-day.
I’m deeply appreciating right now the wisdom of building in a few post travel days to recuperate. I’m actually appreciating so much these days as a result of our trip. It has me reflecting on why I believe everyone, particularly families with young kids, but really all of us, need to get out there and experience more of this country beyond our daily lives.
A friend of mine shared a text today about how he and his wife were jokingly (sort of) reconsidering moving to Canada after this week’s news cycle. And who could blame them? For nearly the past two weeks I haven’t even kept up with the news that much, and I’m certain it’s been terrible. But that also hasn’t been my frame of reference about this country for the past few weeks.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating for a “head in the sand” ignore what’s happening around you approach. As conscientious citizens I believe we have a responsibility to each other to make our communities function for us all. That requires awareness of the issues at hand, and a willingness to engage in the ongoing work of building a society.
However, one thing I’ve noticed consistently while being on the road with my blackety, black family this week is just how important it is we learn to see one another if we’re going to co-exist with one another. We’ve been in the Deep South, the mid west, and the southwest, and everywhere we’ve been, our experience has taught us a few key things about how we can learn to coexist with each other.
Find a conversation starter, then engage from there
For both Father’s Day and to celebrate Juneteenth my wife ordered these cool shirts that we sported multiple times on our trip. (Pro-tip when traveling with large families, keep folks in uniform as much as possible, it helps keep track of the Littles). Every time we wore our shirt it turned out to be a conversation starter. White folks in places I wouldn’t expect loved it. Old black folks loved it. People in the airport stopped to tell us they loved it.
I ended up having a lovely conversation with two older white moms in a bookstore who encouraged me to enjoy this time with the girls while they’re young (their kids are older and they miss it!). It all began with a t-shirt.
Go somewhere new to you and see what happens
There were a number of moments on our trip where I was a little bit uncomfortable. It was a new place, I was surrounded by people who didn’t look like me. On one stop, we stayed in a gorgeous downtown bungalow in Tulsa, but I could tell from the white folks jogging and preponderance of American flags that I would probably be out of place here. (I live in an all black neighborhood on the south side of Atlanta, where there are plenty of joggers, but few if any American flags. Not an indictment, just an indication of how we each where our patriotism in different ways).
I decided to hop on the bike that our Airbnb host had graciously left us and took a spin around the neighborhood. I ended up discovering a beautiful community, a lovely park, and surprisingly to me only smiles and head nods from those I passed. That’s not to say my original misgivings about feeling unwelcome were unfounded, I’ve had plenty of experiences to socialize me to exactly that assumption. But because I was open (and felt safe in doing so), I experienced a pleasant surprise.
Test those assumptions, and be open to learning more
The entire trip was really an exercise in testing some of my own assumptions about who people are and how we react to one another. As a black man in this country, I have a frame of reference because of my own lived experiences. Each of us does, some of us are just more aware of it than others. Either way, I don’t believe that our experiences are always indicative of the total picture.
There’s something that happens when you see me and I see you that better completes the story. Maybe when we start seeing one another more clearly, we can start living with one another better. And that’s what I was trying to get my girls to see on this trip. Now if only we can take the rest of America along next time…