She wandered into my boutique at five minutes before six in the evening on the very day that I had made the fateful, frightening and excruciatingly painful decision to sell my business and move across the country. Tapping on her wristwatch she motioned her inquiry as to whether I was getting ready to close. I was, but opted to shake my head no and gesture her in. She hesitated.
“Are you sure?” she asked in a distinctive foreign accent. “Yes, please do come in, browse around, I’m in no hurry,” I assured her.
I tried to pretend the redness in my eyes was not remnants of tears and the hurt in my expression was not telltale of my aching heart.
I cannot say for certain what was said between us in the minutes following. All I know is that, soon after entering the shop, she was there right in front of me at the counter, and we were engaged in an exchange of thoughts and emotions which I shall never forget.
Her name is Valentina. She is from Bulgaria. She is married to an incredibly gifted photographer who was traveling America to capture images of its people. Her passion for both the photographer and his art spilled out of her recklessly. She was incredibly innocent in her mannerism, but equally as potent in her energy.
She engaged me and reached inside my protected places where few are invited. We found common ground in a desire to see life… feel it, breathe it, and taste it… beyond a lunch menu and the evening news.
Sequestered feelings inside were released as I stood at the jewelry display across from this bold, beautiful brunette- tall and thin like myself, eyes radiating by the fire ablaze in her heart. I shared with her the torment hidden within.
In our insular exchange, I opened my tattered diary that exposed, in raw and poignant words, the past two years of my life, clinging to a man and a dream that had vanished from sight during a Florida summer that turned out to be as mordacious and cruel as it was stifling hot.
And she revealed to me her deepest fears of being in strange places with no compass of familiarity and no understanding of its customs and character. She couldn’t quite grasp our American obsessions with money and material possessions. She openly questioned our propensity to coat neighborhoods with commercialism, branding us in the epitome of corporate envy.
Then came the question that thunderstruck me. She looked at me, with a mix of regret and disappointment, and asked, “How is it that the people of this country care so much about what they have and so little about who they are?”
I couldn’t answer that. There were unsullied truths in her observations. We have become a nation of immense ignorance, narcissistic intentions, and fool-hardy ambitions. We have amassed into a society of inconsiderate, uncharitable, entertainment junkies seeking daily fixes of fast food, slick empty messages, media spit, and the follies and failures of others. We are, admittedly, unhealthy in our thinking, priorities, desires, and dreams.
Most certainly, as you read that supposition of sorts, you (like me) will say, ‘Well, that’s not ME!’ You believe, quite staunchly, that in no way does your mirror reflect a self-focused, unenlightened American.
While all of us measure our life differently and view our existence in its most pretty pose, a truth that cannot be denied is that, collectively, as a country, we are unpleasantly devoid of integrity, passion, and clear sight. We are, unfortunately, quite blind.
We are not “right” in how we live, govern, and pray.
They are not “wrong” in their beliefs, their culture, and their heritage.
Others should matter more.
Lattes should matter less.
Knowing the world should be a given.
Knowing football stats should be vacuous.
Giving, for the sake of giving, should be a criterion.
Buying, for the sake of buying, should be abandoned.
Bigger should be seen as arrogant.
Less should be seen as prudent.
Expressing love should be considered courageous.
Expressing anger should be considered impotent.
There are among us many beautiful people who give and care and reach beyond our borders to embrace a world pregnant with amazing cultures and exceptional people. That select group is, though, just a tiny fraction of our American human-base. They fill just a handful of seats in the massive stadium. They are easy to identify… because they are not rooting for the home team or indulging in domestic beer and processed cheese nachos.
They are rooting for mankind… for peace… for graciousness. They are cheering for the only goal that truly matters… the gift of love.