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I’ve added a new hobby the last few months: I’m a volunteer door-knocker for a candidate I’m supporting in the upcoming election.
I always think I will hate knocking on doors, dreading it until the moment I’m actually doing it. Then suddenly there’s something about it that feels so tangible and so human, and I can’t help but fall in love. Maybe it’s because COVID and texting and social media have changed my expectations of social encounters, but there’s something that feels pretty intimate about standing on someone’s actual front steps, expecting that they’ll come and talk to your real, live face. It’s scary and awful, until it actually happens. Then it’s almost always a delight.
And here’s my confession: I think the same, dumb thought every time I knock doors. I’m struck by it every time, and then embarrassed that I needed the reminder, and then grateful to settle into its grounding truth once again.
It’s this: We are all the same.
I don’t mean this to paper over differences in wealth or opportunity or safety, which make our experiences vary greatly. One week I knocked doors in what might be my city’s wealthiest neighborhood. At one particularly stunning house I thought, “Some people live like this,” and then realized it was the home of a very well-known and very wealthy person who owns a very famous company. I didn’t feel a sense of sameness at that moment. (Also no one answered.) And I don’t mean to disregard the beauty of diversity that we get to experience when varying ethnicities and cultures live alongside each other. Last month I knocked in a trailer park, where an immigrant family lived directly across the street from a home where three pride flags were waving in the breeze, and I remembered everything I believe about America.
What I mean is that I’m always surprised when I recognize something of myself in the neighborhoods where I’m prepared to not belong. I think I learned something back in the suburban cul-de-sacs of my youth, something that lives somewhere deeper than wherever my rational or palatable thoughts are lodged. It’s that “they” are not like “us.”
And so I admit that I’m surprised when I pass by the same sidewalk chalk and popsicle sticks that my kids also leave strewn around the front porch. When the beans that I see trailing up the carport are the same ones I grow at home. When their storm door is also full of smudges from a dog’s nose. When they’re watching the game. When their car has an M-22 sticker. When they’re… me.
I suspect I’m not alone in this. There’s a whole industry that is invested in perpetuating the myth of our separateness. There are rewards to believing, to living, like we have no common ground to speak of. (To quote a local attack ad, “She’s with them, not with us.”)
I read somewhere that the word “kindness” can be traced to the word “kin,” meaning it’s rooted in the notion that we are all connected to each other. That our very ability to love has something to do with recognizing something of ourselves the in face of the other.
I’m so weary of the world that teaches me to size up my neighbor, to protect and defend and suspect and disdain. I’m so hungry for something different. So I knock doors in neighborhoods where I don’t belong. And every time, I see signs of a greater truth: we are all the same.
Photo by Christian Stahl on Unsplash