Recently a workman came to my house, and as he was working we struck up a conversation; something I like to do to create a comfortable work atmosphere. We, of course, talked about the weather and our kids, and then gradually moved on to various worrisome aspects of current life: the political animus, the anger, the violence. It seemed as if we had a lot in common. Then he noticed a sticker on my car promoting my political party affiliation. Silence followed. The work was finished efficiently and well, but the common interests were gone and no further conversation was possible.
We inhabited different universes.
Another workman helped me with a simple solution to an electrical problem that would have cost me several thousand dollars; he came up with a workaround for a very small amount. It was extraordinarily good service, and we chatted as he worked. I mentioned having recently had my COVID booster.
That launched a long disquisition about people he knew who experienced adverse reactions – it included every media- circulated false story I’d heard of – and more.
He was sure I would not last the week, and his conviction of the truth of these stories was absolute. I carefully and respectfully disagreed and asked a few questions about the source of his information, but his truth was unshakable.
We inhabited different universes.
A similar conversation took place this summer as I stood in line at the pharmacy with my papers filled out for my most recent COVID booster. A gentleman waiting for a prescription entertained me with a long story about his 94-year-old friend who got a COVID shot and died the next day. The gentleman warned me against getting the booster. I pointed out that at 94, mortality is a daily possibility, that I’d had my first COVID shot when they were first available and was still alive at 82, several boosters into the program. He was happy to ingest whatever drug it was that the pharmacist filled his order with but was also absolutely convinced that the COVID booster was going to do me in.
Although we inhabited different universes, these disagreements were polite – even friendly, giving me hope for our world by demonstrating the mutual respect expected in civilized societies.
We live in a world bifurcated into overlapping realities. We meet at intersections, sometimes regulated by the red/green lights of respect and courtesy, sometimes colliding violently. In one world, COVID vaccines are the danger, masks are tyrannical impositions, stay-at-home orders are violations of rights, everyone needs a gun, and Biden lost the last election. In the other world, a few scientists saved us from extinction by virus, a few leaders wisely kept us safely home, a tiny group of front-line workers braved danger to care for us, weapons used in war do not belong in homes, and Biden won the election.
This is the real danger of our times: if we only scream at each other across this divide, our democracy will fail. If we refuse the workman entry into our home because of their faith, politics or sexuality – then the faucet will continue to drip, the lights will go out.
Some years ago, with bags of groceries in the trunk, my car had an unfortunate encounter with a very large pickup. You might say we violently inhabited the same spot in the universe at the same time – and that didn’t work out too well. As I sat by the roadside, helped by several kind passersby and waiting for the police, a lady brought me a bottle of water and gave me comfort. Another lady began to pray, thanking Jesus I had not been harmed.
Although I kind of wished Jesus had intervened before the collision, I was truly warmed by these Samaritans. They were kind and generous to be standing with me in the hot sun in that moment when I needed help.
It didn’t matter which ideological universes we inhabited – each entered into the other’s world as a fellow human and offered what each had: water, prayer, time. How simple that all seems.
Sharon Kourous is a retired teacher and member of Stronger Together Huddle, a group engaged in supporting and promoting the common good. She resides in Monroe and can be reached at email@example.com.