Posted by: MC | November 5, 2012

Presidential Politics and the #6 Bus

The podcast series continues – in fact, the entire world continues – even here in the days just preceding and just following the 2012 U.S. Presidential election.  This past Friday, Alex Ward, the producer of the podcast series, uploaded Chapter 3 – Voices from the Southwest.  The radio recounting of my miles on the post-inauguration highways of early 2009 continues.  The most important feature of these podcasts for me is the chance to hear the real voices of the real people I listened to along the way.

As I write, I’m sitting on a #6 bus in Portland, OR.  I’m at the northern reach of that route – in Jantzen Beach.  I rarely come up to this part of Portland, a mile or less from the Washington state border.  I’ve been at the Red Lion where I gave a talk to the Oregon Counselors’ Association.  They’d invited me to talk about listening – about listening as a radical act, and as one attendee suggested, “a lost art.”  Needless to say, I was on for the opportunity.

And, just as with the election, as with all markers in our individual lives – births, deaths, weddings, divorces, graduations, new jobs, retirement – even as I spoke and listened about Listening, the world continued.  This is one of the major lessons of the 100 Voices and the way they point to the myriad opportunities each of us has daily to learn from listening.

As I write, we’re three days from the election.  When I post, we’ll likely be lots closer.  Life will keep happening up to and through and beyond November 6, 2012.  One part of life happening is for all citizens qualified to VOTEVOTEVOTE!  And still, ever alongside are the ongoing stories our lives tell together and separately.  Today has been no different, providing me with another rich collection of people from whom to learn.

First thing this morning in anticipation of the early afternoon presentation, I decided I needed cards – business-ish with information about the EX:Change project.  Reflective of my minimal but s l o w l y emerging skills with getting the word out (i.e., publicity) I’ve never had such a card – two 10,000+ mile trips around the country later.  Oh well.  We always start from where we are.

I spent an hour plying the range of my computer skills to making a design – the 100 Voices book cover alongside the growing list of urls and facebook sites – oh, and a phone number.  I grabbed my raincoat and hoofed it to the nearby Kinkos to turn my modest mock up into 250 cards.

The man behind the counter was Jared – a big guy – a man who lives out from Portland in a small town.  “Believe it or not,” he said, I don’t have a computer.”  He finds that ironic since he spends so much time on the computer in his work.  “I just don’t want to mess with cable service,” he said.  “Besides, it’s really nice to live unplugged from all this stuff.”  He speculated that all of that will change when his kids are old enough to need it for school.  “How many kids?” I naturally ask.  “Two,” he said and paused to look up and smile, “except three tomorrow.”

Jared went on to comment on how impatient he was for the hours to pass before the scheduled C-section that would bring the new infant.  He said that he was glad he was working to pass the time, and that really there was something alright about the wait because his impatience reminds him of how precious his family is to him.  “I only get to wait for this one once.  We all only get one day for being born.”

Then, Jared worked a little miracle.  He sent me off to walk back home to get into my ‘grown up’ clothes and come back to pick up the cards on my way to the bus.  In an hour and against the usual odds of that kind of job taking 4-7 hours, we were calling out greetings to one another while a colleague of his checked me out.

Jared and I are from very different everyday lives.  In almost any other situation the likelihood of our striking up a conversation would be minimal.  Nonetheless, the potential is always here, and my experience keeps showing me that the learning is guaranteed.

I rushed out of Kinkos smiling and imagining Jared’s family this evening and then again tomorrow evening in the unfolding of their next big moment.  I made it to the #6 bus stop on NE Broadway and MLK.  There I stood, alone.  I watched as a man approached – a roundish man with a lumbering walk that moved as much side to side as forward.  He had on shorts to just below his knee, big running shoes, and a mustard yellow hoodie.  He was holding a brown bag in front of him – out from his body a bit, as if in respect or in offering.

Coming up behind and then passing him to reach the bus stop just ahead of the man was a younger man with dark close cropped hair and a beard, more tailored clothes in shades of black but still leisurely.  For Portland that can be a formal as it gets, but you get the idea.

As the larger man approached, I could see that he is a man with Downs Syndrome.  He looked toward the two of us and said energetically, in words that were a bit difficult to understand, “That bus is coming to get us, soon!”  Then with as much enthusiasm, he said, “Am I right?”  “Yes you are!” I said back and the conversation continued about his breakfast, about the new razor in his bag, about the way he’d shaved his head this morning and only cut himself two times, about how good his head feels to him.  In the middle of our stream of conversation, he turned to the other man and said, “I know you!”  The man didn’t respond, looking down instead.  “I know you!  You ride the bus!” I was learning that this man speaks in exclamations and after a few repetitions, the man in black smiled a little, understanding.

At one point in the flow, the man in the mustard-colored hoodie reached out to give me a hug.  I accepted and then put out my hand saying, “Tell me your name.”  The man must have learned over time that his response to that question is often misunderstood.  He replied with, “My name is C – H – U – C – K.”  “That’s Chuck,” I said.  “Hi Chuck.  My name is Mary.  M – A – R – Y.”  Chuck looked at the man in black who smiled and entered in.  “J – O – H – N,” he said reaching out his hand to meet Chuck’s.  “My name is John.  Good to meet you.”

In the meantime a very tall man had arrived among us, dressed all in light gray including a floppy gray tweed hat pulled over his wavy gray hair.  The man’s cheeks and nose were very red.  He offered a bus transfer for sale and with no takers, sat on the nearby bench.  When the #6 finally arrived amidst Chuck’s tireless and engaging exclamations, I glanced over at the tall man who sat looking through the haze of his inebriation with a quiet smile that I took to be appreciation for Chuck, for his kindness, his presence.

We stepped onto the #6.  The bus driver had a fresh Plumeria in her dark hair. “Oh it’s you, Chuck,” she said.  “How are you today?”

These ways of living with and enriching each other go on and on – meetings, partings, human kindness, simple presence.  They happen before Presidential elections and after them.  In subtle but no less substantive ways, they influence and are influenced by big public moments but, so far, they don’t go away.  It seems to me the influence of these moments of connection, constant and common as they are, is far greater than we think.  Because we don’t see them, they also remain largely untapped.

Community connection like this is likely the most potent resource for the enactment of real democracy.  Oddly, it also provides a largely unacknowledged stability and thus serves as the stage for all the drama and dazzling media representation of the cascade of disturbing and abundant current events.  Maybe that’s the way it will stay – political and economic leaders engaged in their theater with a few everyday people being drawn in to make for terror and wars while most of the people filling the audience continue living their lives with and among each other nonetheless – even in horrifying and too frequent circumstances of fear and adversity.

We connect with each other as people living lives at the same time.  And that dauntless impulse is the richest of resources for the correction and repair of the hurt places in our experience of human community.  That connection routinely outlives the terms of elected politicians.  It outlives the rise and fall of nations.  And it seems to me the very best place to start from – again and again – as many times as it takes.



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