Waiting at the car wash on inauguration day I overheard a large man swearing at the shop’s TV. “Look at that dumb SOB,” he said, pointing at our newly inaugurated President. “Fucker’s nothing but a damn parrot.”

The man was sitting in a chair next to a small woman. He poked her, “this is the beginning of another civil war. You watch. All those damn Biden and BLM signs all over the place. It’s gonna be civil war all over again. And you ask me? It’s not coming soon enough.”

The man was in his sixties or seventies. Grossly obese. When it came time for him to get up from his chair and leave, the woman, his wife I’m guessing, grabbed him by the collar of his jacket and pulled while he pushed against the chair’s arms. In other words, he was a guy who looked to not have many more years left on his shelf, and yet there he was spending that dwindling time festering an anger so deep it had him dreaming of killing his own neighbors.

I wondered if there was something I could do or say. Some wise comment or gesture that might crack open that grizzled exterior and create an opportunity to consider, for a moment, that maybe the world is not all he believes.

But I just sat there.

I remembered my own reaction to the 2016 election. I felt gut shot by Donald Trump’s win. Clearly there was a division in our country, a chasm wider than I’d ever imagined. On one side were people like me — individuals who refused to support a man who appeared utterly lacking in moral character. On the other side — well I wasn’t even sure how one could even be on the other side. But despite my grave reservation and even hostility toward our President and some of his actions, never in the four years of the Trump administration did I imagine our sides engaging in a war. Rhetorical sparring, sure. But not physical combat.

But here was this man at a car wash talking of “arming up.” I thought of how Dutch colonists had used division to create Apartheid. By favoring one tribe over another — giving one better land, or more water or special privileges of one kind or another — they would stir up a rivalry between the tribes. As long as the tribes were fighting one another, the white minority could control the country and its wealth and resources. It’s a simple tool. Common. Uncomplicated in the way it distracts people and strips them of their collective power.

Why is it the man in the car wash hates our new President? What is it he believes he will lose under Biden’s leadership, what is it he thinks others will unfairly gain? And are any of those fears legitimate? Or, are they manufactured by a political and media machine geared to divide our nation into tiny controllable bites? And more important to me, what am I doing to add to that gulf, and how do I stop?

Freed from his chair, the man at the car wash followed his wife toward the door. His walk was halting and appeared painful. I wondered if he was a vet, perhaps once giving his blood and soul for our country. I wondered if maybe he’d been in a car accident, or if his work had been brutal on his body, a logger maybe. Maybe a fisherman. Someone who had a family and a life and cared about them like I care about mine. A man who probably liked to grill and laugh with friends over a beer, and maybe stood outside at night from time to time looking up to the big barren sky, wondering his own private whys and hows. And I wondered what it was I could have said to this man that might have interrupted his thoughts of war, and made both our days a little bit lighter. A little less divided. A bit more rich and whole. 

-Naseem Rakha – 1/21/21