by Dave Markwell

I hate traffic. I spend much time avoiding it. In fact, I may spend more time trying to avoid traffic than the actual delay would cost me. The other day, while heading home from a jobsite during the peak commute hours, I got crafty and took some back roads and wound up at the only stumbling block on my trip; a stop sign at a particularly challenging intersection with high traffic flow.

While sitting at the sign, I looked for an opening and was feeling a bit defeated by the line of vehicles stretching into the distant horizon. Nonetheless, I was alert and hopeful that the traffic gods would provide me a savior and another driver would let me in.

Alas, my savior arrived. A guy in a red truck saw me sitting and slowed down to let me in. I dove at the chance. I waved a “thank you” and nodded a grateful and heartfelt smile. He waved and smiled back. It seemed as if he was maybe thanking me, too. Like maybe he needed a reminder of his own generous, kind spirit and I was his proof.

I imagined him having a tough day at work, heading home to his family with a headful of troubles and perhaps he needed me to give him the gift of helping me. I understand this feeling. I do a lot of small, borderline meaningless, niceties that I’m sure mean more to me than the recipient. I understand this and never care. I’m selfish in my giving. I require little acknowledgment or appreciation. I feel just fine knowing I did a good thing.

In 5 seconds on a sunny Tuesday afternoon, as the man and I smiled and waved and he did me a solid, we connected as human beings. And it was a nice reminder that we’re always connected.

Last Sunday, I caught the tail-end of “60 Minutes” as Oprah Winfrey led a round table discussion with a diverse collection of Midwestern folks chatting about our current political fiasco. The viewpoints varied greatly and while mostly cordial, it was a pretty intense conversation. The questions seemed to showcase the panelists’ differences. And this troubled me.

Understanding that there may have been some lead up that didn’t make the show, I still kind of wish that the strangers would have been led to find some common human ground to stand on before entering the fracas of divisive politics. I think it’s easy to miss the common human ground upon which we all stand. Beginning with this makes a genuine conversation possible. And I think we need these very badly.

I wish the first questions would have been about favorite pizza toppings, or sports teams, or vacation spots, or kids, or hobbies, or childhoods, or parents, or best books, or ice cream flavors…basically ANYTHING, but politics.

Discussing the “anything elses”, I believe, would showcase our sameness. This sameness is universal and real and true. Beginning with the understanding that we are not so different allows for empathy to enter the room. And empathy is the most powerful tool in the box. It disarms and creates space for conversation. It addresses challenges and seeks solutions. It humanizes and heals and it’s everywhere. It lives in the smiles of strangers, the delicate dimples of a pretty girl, and it lives in the hopeful rhythm of our collective heartbeat. It also lives in the kind eyes of a guy in a red truck who nodded and waved and made me happy for the traffic. It’s everywhere and it’s us and it’s wonderful…

[EDITOR’S NOTE:”Feel Good Friday” is a regular column written by Des Moines resident Dave Markwell, whose first book is called “A Feel Good Life” (buy it on Amazon here). He also runs the Waterland Arcade, located at 22306 Marine View Drive South. Dave extols to all neighbors: “Enjoy where we live. Put your feet on the pavement and truly feel how great it is to live here!” Also, Dave needs more friends – find him on Facebook here.

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