It started with a simple request from Lyndon Johnson. On this particular Saturday, demonstrate your support for the troops fighting in Vietnam by driving with your headlights on. Always a supporter of our military, I complied with the request. On that Saturday, I had volunteered to take my two younger cousins, Michelle and Patrice to the King of Prussia Mall. We piled into the car and as I backed out of the driveway, Michelle, the fifteen year old, demanded that I turn off my lights. I refused. After all, it was my car and my opinion. She argued. I pushed back and turned my high beams on. She protested. I ignored her. By the time we were close to the Mall, the windows were steamed, the tension high and both of us holding firm to our points of view. She gave me an ultimatum, turn off the headlights or let her out of the car. As a 24 year old adult, I did the only mature, responsible thing I could think of. I stopped the car, let her out and told her to be careful walking home. She got out and I drove away. I wasn’t worried about her getting home. It was only a 2 mile walk and one that she had done many times.
After spending an hour in the Mall, Patrice and I headed home. The drive back was much more enjoyable – quiet, civilized and my headlights remained on. The tranquil atmosphere didn’t last long. As I pulled into the driveway I noticed that the mailbox had been newly painted with a huge ‘peace’ sign on each side. Obviously Michelle had made it home safely, found some paint and left her statement for all to see! I shook my head wondering what this younger generation was coming to as I repainted the mailbox red, white and blue.
Time marched on. We all grew up and matured…well, I’d like to think so anyway. Michelle and I both learned to pepper our black and white views of issues with a lot of gray and we became more friends than cousins. To this day, we still hold opposite opinions on issues and, many times, are still the loudest voices at family dinners, gatherings and events. However, even in the most heated discussions, something is different…besides mailboxes being safe, we find ourselves listening to each other rather than just talking at each other. I can only speak for myself, but when I stopped ‘pontificating’ and started listening, I realized that there was a lot of common ground between us…we merely took different paths to get there.
Today my cousins are making their mark. Michelle is a critical care pulmonologist, who dons her work scrubs, N95 mask, goggles, face shield, gown, booties and picks up her Clorox wipes every day to go into Philadelphia to help fight this pandemic war. As a surgical nurse, Patrice is fighting the same battle in Vermont as part of the ‘swab squad’. To both of you, I love, respect and admire you for the strong women you have become, proud of the work you’re doing and so glad we’re in the same family tree. No arguments here!
Perhaps the world would be in a better position, if we sought common ground by listening more and talking less. Maybe that’s why we have two ears and one mouth.