Let me tell you a story.
It is Halloween, a beautiful Monday, and the high school band is forming up in the parking lot of my kids’ elementary school. There are clusters of parents chatting sociably, parents alone jostling the strollers of younger children at nap time, a set of quiet smiling grandparents dressed as, I think, a brain surgeon and patient. Two police cars are blocking traffic on the quiet street and school administrators, friendly witches, are striding purposefully from bus driver to band leader to police to teachers, often catching the eye of a parent or a student to wave and smile, ask “How are you?” or compliment a costume.
The music starts, a percussion extravaganza, and the band begins to move, instruments glinting in the sun. Caught unawares by emotion, I fight back tears as the band flows past and the little kids follow. Pre-K, then Kindergarten, 1st grade (Shmoogie is thrilled to see me and thrilled with her “Minecraft Chicken” costume assembled the day before) and on up (Mr. P punching the air with excitement in his freshly black-sprayed hair and Percy Jackson costume — clever, you understand, because a “Camp Half-Blood” t-shirt and blue jeans can be worn all day at school without breaking the rules). Parents are taking pictures, smiling and waving at their kids. A mother leans in to straighten her daughter’s witch hat as she goes by, and the band plays on.
Now let me share some details that might explain my misty eyes.
The band is led by two majorettes, not one. Black and brown, they march with their arms interlocked because, I realize, one of them is blind. The clusters of cheerful parents are chatting not just in English, but also Spanish, and I know the grinning, strutting students say good morning and good night in dozens of other languages. The witch-hat adjusting mom is wearing a hijab.
I know it sounds like I made that up, like I'm conjuring some ridiculous liberal dream of the future, but this nouveau Norman Rockwell spread is real. I was standing in it on Monday. It has already been conjured by the courage of people who came before us, many who still walk with us now. It is my America, the America of hope and openness and simple human joy. It is so beautiful. And it feels so fragile right now.
Now let me confess something to you.
In the first weeks of school, it was disconcerting for my kids' to be some of just a few white faces in the student body. It was not an experience they or I had really had before. When I am the one to pick them up in the afternoon, my primate brain reacts a bit to the otherness of the faces and the clothes and the smells of this united nations of parents before my rational brain smiles and says, Hello!
"We owe it to other people not to be afraid of them." What a profound idea, that fear of the other is not something that just happens to us, it is something we choose to indulge or to let go. Our daily lives offer chances to make that choice over and over, with all its moral weight, but on Tuesday we have the rare chance to make that choice resoundingly together.
I cannot wait to mark my ballot.