Posted by: MC | February 2, 2009

Groundhog’s Day

Ashland, OR


Tonight the stars in Ashland, Oregon swan dive earthward through blue-black air.  Orion looks hotter than ever, his warrior vibe spangling the night. The Big Dipper, Cassiopeia and all the others whose names I’ve known and forgotten too many times, glisten beyond the capacity of any descriptor.

I stepped out of my car a few hours ago and looked up. The magnificence overhead, a small finale on the month-long preparation for beginning today on the American Road Trip at the center of the EX:CHANGE project.

The day dawned with a sweet good bye – the kind of goodbye that guarantees return because it cannot possibly forge any real separation. A dance instructor of mine spoke years ago of a term he’d learned from Hawaiians pronounced ‘akha.’ ‘Akha’ describes the profound and enduring connection between those most dear to one another. It attaches at the full center of the chest and, like an enormous rubber band, it stretches any direction – any distance to maintain the resonance, purity and integrity of true love. Today’s dawn saw that kind of goodbye.

Then there was the potentially manic morning of packing – equipment, supplies, clothes, shampoo, toothpaste, vitamins (galore…). As if by design, the interview scheduled for 9:00 got bumped to noon. The travel gods were smiling already.

The mid-day interview was breathtaking, entirely in keeping with the trend sustained by everyone so far. Lena’s words were honest, unguarded, and filled with her hopes and confidences. She spoke with urgent clarity of life as a person of mixed-race – as a woman – as a 34-year-old educator, fully bilingual in Spanish who works with English language learners in support of their brilliance and dignity.

The new flip camera lost its charge half way through our conversation. Oh, equipment failure…. But that could not diminish the insights, like shiny thumb tacks, that Lena articulated, pinning down the corners and the center points of our country’s discussion of Change. “Americans are incredible,” she said. “Resilience, hard work and boundless ingenuity are solidly at our core.”
Lena’s words, like the words of all the people who talk with me, speak perfectly for themselves. In them I hear the vast richness of what we have the opportunity to learn from and with one another. That richness is a major theme so far, 8 interviews and the first 300 miles down the road.
Just after sunset I stopped in Roseburg, OR for a decaf latte (Portland habits do linger). The only coffee place I could find was the drive-through Dutch Brothers. The guy working the coffee bar was by himself and I was the only customer. When he heard about the EX:CHANGE trip, he wanted to know if it was partisan. I said, “It’s American.” He said he thinks we’re all star struck. He leaned onto the counter at the window. “We can’t put change all on one person.” Then he said he wished we could rise above our differences to identify a few major points of agreement – things of substance that matter to Americans – “things we can get to work on.”
Who knows if it was the effect of the stars, already popping out of the night sky over Roseburg – or tangible evidence of the dauntless optimism at the center of our American dream – or perhaps simply an outcome of the particular new millennium artistry of this man at his coffee bar. What I do know is that I drove away with the finest decaf latte I’ve ever tasted.

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