Jeffrey here. Joey is stowed in plastic. As ever, the last word on the Ride is mine.
Remember the first of the Bobs you met in Sanford, Maine?
Bob said something that stuck. He said it’s good that the U.S. admits people from Europe, Asia and Africa, as well as from the various cultures of Latin America. He said that a good mix of people will maintain the America we have become accustomed to.
He has a point. He and I and others want to keep the American multicultural gourmet stew. If everyone is a minority, no one is. Then we won’t develop the bitter ethnic and religious “outsider” enclaves one finds in Europe. We’ll continue to accept one another as Americans, just as the “stupid, unassimilable” Slavs and Italians and Jews and Russians and Irish and Chinese and Nigerians and Koreans et al. became accepted as Americans by the immigrants who preceded them, and by one another.
I got the sense that Bob represents a common view in New England. Old families are uneasy with change, but they know it’s inevitable and they accept it. Our new friends in Portland – Nancy, Conan and Crystal . . .
. . . cut Maine’s governor varying amounts of slack, but all are ready to accept Central American child refugees despite the governor complaining that Maine could not afford to accept any. (The Federal government proposed to send eight children. For the whole state.) We are what we do. Mainers do good, so they are good.
On every Ride, the few people who expressed even guarded hostility to immigrants and refugees, were mellowed when I talked to them about real people and real problems and real cruelties in our law. In the Shenandoah Valley, people were worried about Shariah law (I think they had been listening to talk-radio crackpots). In the Midwest, people fretted about losing their jobs to newcomers. Et cetera. People everywhere had a regional take. But I never met a person who wanted to hurt anyone because she was foreign-born. Sometimes I write, um, carefully about my conversations, but I am honest. These pages’ dearth of vicious xenophobes reflects my experience.
Rabbi Marc Margolius of NYC, a big fan of these annual Rides, was quoted in an Israeli newspaper: “The essence of Jewish identity is empathizing with—and even loving—the stranger.” Judaism is the precursor of the two other Abrahamic religions, Christianity and Islam, and the “Old Testament” informed the opinions of America’s founders. Thus I think empathizing with, and loving, the stranger, is part of who most Americans claim to be. Let’s try harder to live up to that claim.
And let’s be understanding of those who are afraid. Xenophobia may be wired into us, from our ancestors’ personal experience of perpetual war. Every generation has to overcome this impulse. Why overcome it? Ethics aside, because when we accept one another, life is better for everyone.
Every Ride is too rich an experience to describe. I can give you only a hint of the sights, sounds, smells, the terrain, the weather, the people . . . the feel of America. And I feel welcome everywhere.
Consider the philosophy of the late scholar and teacher Menachem Mendel Schneerson, as described by another scholar, Adin Steinsaltz:
“In his last years, [Schneerson] used to tell people, ‘Open your eyes.’ Open your eyes and see. If you think people are only interested in power or money, you are mistaken. What they really want is a little bit of love. Those who seem to be striving only for power and for possessions are really striving for comfort and to hear a good word.”
I find comfort and good words in the Heartland.
I am grateful to all who emailed and posted words of support, letting me know that I wasn’t entirely (to coin H. L. Mencken’s phrase) bawling up a rainspout in the interior of Afghanistan. I rarely answered any, because I couldn’t answer all. Yet I love you for it.
Donors to Human Rights First took things a step further. Thank you! You will receive your souvenir postcards soon.
I am grateful to people along the way who offered me food, water, shelter, help, cheers, smiles, toots, thumbs-ups. Some were friends of friends, some total strangers. Even when I couldn’t accept their tangible offers, the offers gave me strength.
I enjoyed companionship on my first day’s ride from friends Daler and Sidney, who spent hours guiding me through the mazes of Queens and western Long Island.
I basked in the hospitality of Ellen and Steve in Maine, and of Renaz, Reina, and Anwar in Connecticut. Wonderful food, clean laundry, shelter from the storm . . . and friendship. Friends like these are treasures.
My friends at Human Rights First, chief among them Kathy Jones and Morgan Turner, were there when I needed them. Kathy turned out to see me off and to welcome me home, “there” in person as well as in spirit.
Back to love. Benjamin, Deena, and Rebecca are Nancy’s and my gifts to the future.
The children and the women’s significant others, David and Andrew, are a joy. All encouraged me to bike a thousand miles through New England despite the October crash, despite their worries. I am sustained by their love and support.
Then there’s Nancy. She’s in a category of her own. Brilliant, beautiful, strong, patient. A person of character. Example: she doesn’t shop or cook or schlep, but after my leg was shattered, for months she shopped and cooked and schlepped. She last bike-toured at age 17, but when I do it, she backs me, even though she can’t sleep for worry. She works long hours under great pressure so I can dabble in law, nursing, eldercare and roaming the countryside.
I love people, and hope for love when I meet them. But the real love, from my Nancy, my love, my friend for 40 years and my best friend for 35, is at home. I want to be where Nancy is.
Nancy’s love is all I need.