I’ve been standing by the side of Rt. 7 for the past hour and a half, thumb outstretched, waiting for the kindly driver who will take me, or at least lessen, the 12 miles of road between here and home. To many, this may appear a simple ploy to cop a free ride, but to myself I am conducting a simple and enjoyable social experiment. I am inviting people to trust me.
I realize I may not seem very intriguing to pick up, dressed as I am in a pitted t-shirt, blue jeans, and uninspired footwear, but to further my curb appeal I hold up various sign, usually straightforward ones with legible, easy to digest directives such as “North” or “Home.” If offers have been slow and I’m of a more sardonic mood I hoist one proclaiming my status in this world in bold lettering; “Unarmed and carries cash.” During moments of poignancy I query motorists, “When did people stop trusting each other?”
Our lack of trust, or rather our unwillingness to show it, may have something to do with a dislike of dependence. We equate the word with weakness. Yet we can’t help ourselves. We’re pragmatic do-it-yourselfers. The ideology is wired into the American mythos.
Our national heroes are figures who stand out or alone, who deliberately distance themselves from the rest of humanity by gulfs real or constructed.
Yet, as a species we are social and reliant on a community that supports us, to love, nurture, and recognize us, be it family, town, synod, commune, country.
So, here’s my vision. Community is not exclusive. Or at least, it shouldn’t be. It shouldn’t stop at the road, or the city limits, or the church door, or the voting booth, or the Atlantic, or the Rio Grande. Already, for myself, you are a part of my community, even if you are unaware of it, and for this primary reason: we name ourselves of a common species. For that alone I claim you as family. Now I’m not going to plant a flag for it, or bomb a village, or invade a developing country, but I will hold your eyes and smile without being prompted. And if you smile back, I’ll wave, even if you don’t pick me up, just to let you know that we can recognize, and love, and believe, not just act, like our fellow humans are good people. But more importantly, that we too can recognize, love, believe, and be good.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.