When I was a child, I used to love those “Connect the Dots”puzzles where an image would appear when you drew pencil lines in a numerical sequence.
I could do these puzzles for hours and in some strange way they helped me to develop the ability to see patterns and the “big picture” that has served me well in my professional life. I have strengths in being able to clarify ambiguous situations. Not bragging, because God knows I have many weaknesses including the inability to back up a trailer or boat. People have run for their lives on boat ramps in Northern California when I was at the wheel, looking in the rear view mirrors, trying back down a ramp that was 100 yards in length or so.
This past 24 hours I have felt like I have revisited my joy for the Connect the Dot puzzles, but without a piece of paper and pencil – but instead with some seemingly random events that have created an image of hopefulness for me. Let me share.
It all started last night around 10 p.m. when I was channel surfing. On Friday nights I like to watch television a bit later than normal with the hopes of sleeping in a bit on Saturday morning. I know full well that our wonderful dog, Gracie the Goldendoodle, will not allow that to happen, but somehow I convince myself that it will happen. I came to a documentary on our Public Broadcasting Network (PBS) about an American playwright, August Wilson.
Let me be honest, he was not in my cultural radar. His plays were about the experiences of being black in America over many decades. I thought to myself, “Hey watch 15 minutes of it. It’ll be good for you.” However, I kept extending my goal and after 90 minutes my mind was full of so many ideas and questions. I felt guilty that this remarkable artist was someone I wasn’t even aware of, much less appreciated. I felt that way when I went to Glacier National Park, “How could I not have been here before?” His play ‘Joe Turner’s Come and Gone’ had a central theme of “finding your own song,” which seemed to have both a universal message and a very specific message for Black Americans who cannot trace their families’ history and traditions due to slavery. For the first time I thought about how those popular genealogy websites are of little use to African Americans. I went bed at 11:30 p.m. thinking a lot about what I had watched and how grateful I was for deciding to watch 15 minutes about someone I knew nothing about.
The next morning (today), I woke and decided that I would attend a funeral service for the mother of a colleague who I admire very much. She teaches literature at university. I am not a funeral-going kind of guy and this one was to be held in an Evangelical Lutheran church. I didn’t know what that meant and it has been about 20 years since I can remember stepping inside a church…and that was for another funeral. As I entered the church, I was drawn to the biblical stories being told in the stained glass windows, the beautiful beams that supported the A-frame chapel, and the warm wood tones of the walls. I thought to myself, “Ah, this feels nice.” The Lutherans seem to follow a common script for funeral services and it didn’t take long to see who was comfortable with the words, music, and expected verbal responses and who was not. I was lost at times. Still, I was cool with it all..until the sermon. I found out why it was called Evangelical. It quickly brought me back to my own religious training, one that I have spent most of my life trying to reject. The pastor was clear on who was going to hell and I felt like he might as well have pointed his finger directly at me and said, “I am talking about you, sir…five rows back, 3rd seat from the center, left side of the center isle.” I was certain I was among many who voted for President Trump. The sermon’s message was hopeful, if you have been following specific instructions very carefully your whole life. I must admit I always kind of admire someone who is so certain where they stand on religious issues because I am greatly confused and refuse to be otherwise. During a particular low point in the sermon, something about women spiritual leaders and homosexuals, I silently asked, “God, where are you?”
Now if you have followed my blog,you know that I sometimes cite strange events that cannot be supported with scientific evidence…so here we go again. As soon as I asked that question, the answer came back, “I am in him, in her, in her,in him, in him…” as I randomly looked at the strangers I sat among. It was startling and I soon felt a peace which was somewhat related to the same feeling I had after watching the August Wilson documentary. A strange connection, it seemed.
The third dot: This afternoon, I asked my 15 year old grandson if he wanted to go to the movies with me. He has expressed interest in someday studying aeronautical engineering and I thought the movie, “Hidden Figures” might inspire him some. Now I live in a small town where the vast majority of people angrily voted for DJT. Through the years, my little town has had a reputation for a lack of tolerance for others. It stands in stark contrast to the university town where I work, but I like the geography of the place – if not all the people.
As we entered the theater, the usual demographics of old white people were spread throughout the seats. Average age probably about 60 years old with many older than that. The movie was about many things, but focused on three very intelligent black women in the early 1960’s and there were many dramatic elements about the prejudice and social injustice that African-Americans had to face everyday in America. This is not a theme that one would think would play well in my little town, but something happened that I have never seen before in 35 years of attending movies there. Not once, but twice at least 75% of the audience spontaneously clapped when the movie depicted a social injustice, or maybe better said, just a plain meanness, being addressed and corrected. I was like, “Where am I?” These folks are not naturally expressive people. They consider it very rude to even whisper during a movie. Although I greatly enjoyed the movie and the wonderful actors, what I will remember most is the strangers among me and their spontaneous expression of support.
So, somehow, strangers in all three situations ended up making me feel…hopeful. When I connect all the dots of those experiences – August Wilson’s incredible words that captured and shared the human experience, the feeling of God among strangers, even ones who think I am hell-bound, and patrons at movie theater cheering when hateful attitudes are exposed and fought against – a sense of hopefulness came into my consciousness. I was amazed at how these three, unplanned and unrelated events were able to create such a hopeful picture.
And that’s my story. forgive the typos, i don’t feel like editing it. God Bless Ya!