This is just a simulation of
our beloved essayist at work.
We really are not sure what
his creative process involves,
we just print the results.
What’s Wrong With America: There Is A Word For It
I know it is unusual to admit this, but there is a word I want to use in this
column that I cannot quite put my finger on. It is right there on the tip of my tongue. I
know it will come to me at some point, probably when the paper is on the stands.
It is also bad form to telegraph your punch, to tell the reader what the column
is about before you even tell them the story. My old high school English teacher, Ms.
Meeks, would be shaking her head in disapproval at what I am about to admit. The
true parable I am going to tell you is meant to communicate what I believe is a major
problem in this country, especially in the age of Trump. To tell the reader the moral of
the story before one begins is simply bad form. You want the audience to come to
story’s meaning naturally and on their own. Instead, I am just admitting my flaws as
So, I am going to apologize in advance. If I knew the elusive word I want to
use maybe I would not have to do this apology at the beginning.
A few years back, I moved back from Las Vegas with my tail between my legs.
I had moved out there expecting to find gold in “them thar” hills. A friend who was in
the mortgage industry told me that I could work for him until I made the necessary
contacts to do what I really wanted to do with my life. He was making money hand
over fist, and there was more than enough to spread the wealth around. One little
problem, a month after I got there, a week after I signed a two year lease on my
house, the real estate bubble popped. Even the job I had to get at Blockbuster in
order to get by vanished when the chain began its slow death rattle. I had to
scramble to get a job at Walmart. It is a real blow to your ego when one of the
managers off-handedly says to you, “You’re just not Walmart material.”
When my lease ended, I packed up my vehicle with all my belongings,
exhausted from having to put up with an unemployed alcoholic roommate, a more
than year long battle with sciatica, and scars from the worst relationship I had ever
After a brief respite in Arizona, I headed home to Iowa, hoping to find bits and
pieces of my self-esteem along the way. My traveling companions were my two
dogs, my old Golden Labrador and the white Boxer, both of whom sat in the
passenger seat next to me. The wonderful thing about dogs is they love you even
when it feels like no one else does. Those two dogs were truly among the sweetest
canines to ever grace this planet.
The nice thing about trying to find your place in life is that you can get lost a
time or two and it really doesn’t matter. I have no sense of direction and on that trip I
took a wrong road or two and lollygagged my way around. I knew I was heading in
the general direction of home, so everything was okay.
Colorado might be one of the most beautiful states in the union. I enjoyed
poking around the small towns I came across and eating here and there where I
could. Every hour or two, I got the dogs out of the car so they could stretch their
legs. It is amazing the people you meet and come across on the road. I feel like if I
knew the word I wanted to use I would use it here.
As I traveled north, through the scenic mountains, I noticed a sign of a rest
stop only a few miles ahead. Given the views, even the rest stops in The Centennial
State are beautiful, well, except for the signs warning you not to leave the paths and
be on the lookout for rattlesnakes. The possibility of a rattlesnake bite can really put
a cramp on your enjoyment of nature’s majesty. Still, the dogs needed a break and
so did I.
Getting out of the car, I noticed the only other parked vehicle was a ratty, old
red and white pickup truck that had seen its better days. The tires were bald. The
truck was so pocked with rust that it had left a trail of orange and brown dust and
flakes like breadcrumbs behind it. The front windshield had a crack going completely
across it. A bent coat hanger stood erect where the antenna used to be. I wondered
to myself how it managed to make it here, let alone how many miles it was going to
last once it left.
On the grassy area, a tattered and patched blanket was spread out. A little
Hispanic boy and girl, they could not have been in more than first or second grade,
sat on it with their grandparents. Judging by the basket on the blanket with them, it
looked like they were about to have a picnic. As the dogs and I walked passed the
tailgate of the truck, it looked like everything they owned was piled in the back and,
given how dirty it all looked, all their worldly possessions could not have been worth
Lost in all my own problems and worries, I failed to notice the little boy run up
to me. He had a look of excitement on his face. He had seen my dogs and it was
clear that he wanted to pet them. My dogs, especially the younger one, had never
met a person they didn’t like. As the child looked up at me with his big brown eyes, I
nodded that it was okay for him to touch them. He giggled and squealed as he
petted and hugged my pets. Before I knew it, his sister was beside him giving her
love to my four-legged friends.
Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out the worn out tennis ball, unleashed the
dogs, and mimed playing catch with the children. They loved watching the dogs
dash back and forth. I noticed their grandfather, a little bent over and stooped, slowly
making his way towards me. When he finally got to me, he stood silently beside me
and watched the children gleefully run around the mowed grass with the dogs. A big
smile crossed his face as he watched the scene unfold. It did not take me long to
realize that he did not speak English and my Spanish, beyond ordering a beer was
non-existent. It did not take me very long to deduce that his wife and he were
probably illegal migrant workers on their way to the next job.
After awhile, through a series of motions and gestures he invited me to sit
down on the blanket and eat with them as the kids rolled around and played with the
dogs. I am not a big fan of Mexican food and what they offered me was real Mexican
food, not the stuff you are going to find at your local restaurant. I did not want to be
rude. So, I gladly took what they offered, even though I felt a little guilty, as I am sure
they could not afford to just give food away.
As we ate, I noticed how cracked, weathered and sun baked their faces were.
They looked like they were in their fifties. Then it suddenly dawned on me, they were
not the children’s grandparents. They were their parents and younger than I was.
They probably were not even in their mid-thirties yet and their bodies were already
showing the years of wear and tear of field work, the repetitive motions, the
absorption of pesticides and herbicides into their skin, and their strained backs from
lifting heavy boxes and toting produce-filled bags, all for mere pennies. They were
willing to go through it all because they loved their children and wanted a better life
As we ate in silence, with the occasional toothy grin coming from them, they
were no longer just faceless migrant workers, or the “other”. They were living,
breathing people with many of the same wants and desires that I had. Even though I
could not understand one word they were saying, for some strange reason, I could
relate to them. Sitting there on the grass with them, I realized what is wrong with
The word I was looking for is communion. Communion, it is not just a religious
term. It is recognizing the image of God is in you and them and taking the time to
see that. When you figuratively or literally break bread with someone, you are taking
the time to know him or her as a person. When you know somebody, it is a world of
difference than talking about them in the abstract.
In a world where presidents, politicians, and talking heads seek to divide us, I
think people have forgotten this. Black lives do matter. Your father is a wandering
Aramean. “Me too” does include a piece of you. Our hopes can be found in Hispanic
children joyfully playing with a couple of dogs. We dream with them. They are the
promise of the greatness of this nation.
Communion, it is a beautiful word, a word of grace. I hope we discover it again