This is a story about when I was in the grocery store a few weeks ago. It was one week after the presidential election in the United States and two days before Thanksgiving. It was a busy afternoon, with folks buying food for the one holiday in the U.S. that has not been commercialized — the holiday where people pause to gather with family and friends and give thanks.
With my ear to the ground of what the responses around the nation have been to the selection of Donald Trump to be our next president, I hear much about the fear of people who do not look like me — who are not white. I hear especially about fear being expressed by children. Children . . . individuals who are not old enough to have much experience with American politics, who perhaps normally would not care a whit about who is president of the United States.
I see photos in the news of a spray painted message on the side of a building with a swastika that reads "Make America White Again." I get a newsletter from a woman who works with elementary school children in the eastern USA telling of the the terror many of the kids expressed the day after the election, and how she did what she could to calm their fears. I attend a Community Action Meeting in my hometown to connect to others who are motivated to act in some way, and listened to speakers in local politics, civil rights and environmental activism who calmly but passionately offer resources and ideas of how to help.
I'm not clear about what I can do to affect real change. I have this impulse to meet and talk to those who did not vote as I did. I want to understand, to connect by extending myself further than I feel comfortable doing. But it's scary.
As I stood at the checkout counter while the cashier rang up my purchases, I noticed a woman standing in line behind me. A Muslim woman with a small boy. She was dressed in a black full-length dress and was tucking her hair into her hijab. In a flash, I decided to look straight at her and found myself smiling . . . a kind of smile that came spontaneously from my full heart, with the energy of strength and solidarity I have been feeling in this past week.
Her face immediately lit up — I swear I saw light coming off her. She shot back to me a power-packed smile. We connected for a split second in a field of strong communion and care. I could feel it in my whole body. After I turned away and put my full and paid-for grocery bag in my cart to leave, I felt tears springing to my eyes. THIS is what bloody matters. THIS small but power-packed smile in the grocery line between two strangers. THIS is activism.
I am thankful for the power of love — love that goes beyond the personal, love that is not conditioned by culture, love that has no boundaries. This is one form of my new activism, a revolutionary act I can practice all the time and takes only a glance and a power-packed smile.