“The stone that the builders refuse shall be the head corner stone” ~ Robert Nesta Marley quoting Psalms 118.
There is something about an unassuming man, a man (or woman) who enters a room without fanfare, without drawing attention to themselves. Nowadays we do everything for attention, hoping someone is watching and recording so we can go ‘viral’. My father was an unassuming man. Despite his status as minister and teacher, he had no expectation of acclaim or applause. He could be easily underestimated as he allowed the blowhards to go first, waiting patiently to deliver an incisive argument.
They say it is better to have people underestimate you than overestimate you. It works in sports, allowing the underdog to make the surprise comeback (the makings of a true Hollywood story). I remember the year that I felt compelled to participate in the Sports Day activities. Though not athletic by nature I was willing, and a team player, and ready to do anything for the good of our ‘House’ (in high school we were assigned to a ‘House’ and would compete against each other). I trained hard for the 100-meter sprint, stretching and working out, staying after school to give it my best shot. Unfortunately, my Hollywood ending was a dud. On the day I ran my heart out, only to be outrun in the last 20 meters by almost everyone else in the race!
I remember when Barack Obama first gained the attention of the larger audience – I think it was his speech at the Democratic National Convention. Many thought he was bright, promising, but not ready yet. And definitely the American public was not ready for him, not enlightened enough to imagine a black man as their President. And yet he ran and won twice! And the nation (well, some of them) patted themselves on the back, sure that this proved how ‘post-racial’ America was.
I have to confess that our latest President-elect (yes, boys and girls, it is over) did not impress me overmuch on the run up to the election. His energy level seemed a little forced, his speech even less fluent than usual. But he defied the odds and beat out the crowd, emerging at the head of the pack. And, as the man who had played second fiddle to our first black President, he decided to choose the first black Vice-President to run with him.
In these troubled times, when down is up and up is down; when democracy seems to be fragile and threatened; when all of the decent norms of compassion and empathy have been swirled down the drain, it may be that Uncle Joe is just what the nation needs. Where others would rush in with sabers rattling, chasing the crazy baldheads out of town (ok, not so much bald as hairstyle challenged, with bad home-dye jobs), Uncle Joe bids us be calm, be patient. When all we long to see is the moral arc of the universe clamping down on wrong-doers, plucking them out and flinging them aside, Uncle Joe speaks unity and healing. And we begin to have faith.
His story is definitely made for Hollywood, with tragedies and many ‘also-ran’ moments along the way. In Jamaica they say ‘man no dead, no call him duppy’ (if a man is not dead, don’t call him a ghost), and Joe has shown many times over that he may be down but is not out. There are so many lessons in his life story that we can use to encourage our kids, our partners, even our enemies! I am not sure that many of us could have persisted in pursuing our dreams this long, and with this many true obstacles.
But for me the big lesson is not to underestimate people. I have had many examples in my own life of people that I may not have had a high opinion of, and then learnt something about them that totally blew my mind. The nursing assistant who had fostered multiple children, even learning sign language so she could communicate with one who was severely hearing impaired. He lived with her until he was almost 40, developmental age around 10, and she continued to care for him through her own health challenges.
As we sit and wait, hoping that a new beginning will usher in a new way of being with each other, it is good to reflect on lessons learned. Often when we make it through a particularly rough patch, we are so relieved that we forget to pay attention to those lessons. What has COVID taught us? What has been exposed about our society that still needs to be treated? What new habits have we started that we should keep up? What new appreciation do we have for health, for family, for connections, things that have no monetary value? How will we live differently in this world?
On this coolish Friday morning (I know, I know, for those who are seeing snow and ice, 73 is not cool) I try to practice patience as we still wait for resolution and concession (not gonna happen). I wonder how we are going to live and work alongside people who still find it possible to believe misinformation over facts. I wonder whether we can finally put into place practices that will result in less heartbreaking deaths, and more equitable health outcomes. And I grieve for those who lost their lives this year.
May you have a wonderful weekend, Family! And remember to practice social distancing, to do what you can to ensure that we can confine the spread and plan for future get-togethers. And go ahead and put up your Christmas tree and lights, we need a little joy in our life!