Rose-Colored Glasses

Jeffrey here. Joey took the day off to sit in a plastic bag.

Nothing in America is real unless it’s validated on TV. Thus the Ride for Human Rights will become real on May 18, when I appear on Time Warner’s channel NY1 as New Yorker of the Week.

It’s not about me. It’s about WWJ&J&JD (see Joey’s post on the subject) and about the immigrants and refugees to whom Americans owe help and acceptance. It’s about Human RIghts First and its projection and protection of American values. It’s about getting donations so that HRF will receive a $25,000 matching grant!

Human Rights First, the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition, and the Nashville Institute for Community Empowerment, exist because Americans – not just in multicultural NYC, but in the Heartland – share their principles. I saw on the Ride that people from New York to Nashville are fairminded and kind. They support HRF and similar organizations once they understand how law, philosophy and religion require us to help the stranger, and how our community and our country benefit from these newcomers and would benefit from sensible laws.

To top off the Ride, I met some new friends of HRF here in the Land of Billy Graham.

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Almost 30 supporters of the Nashville Peace and Justice Center turned out today to meet Joey and me, to hear about the Ride, and to learn about the state of immigration law and policy in our country.

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After speaking, listening, teaching and learning with this group of activists, including Lindsey and Amelia from TIRRC

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– hearing about local problems, and telling them what I’ve learned – and after riding 1007 miles from New York to Nashville, I got off the Lightning and called it a day.

This year’s Ride, like last year’s, beggars description. The weather was better – less rain, no hail. The route was shorter (1007 miles [1621 kms] versus 1216). There were fewer mountains. I had more scares: The Philadelphia bridge. Being hit by a car that swerved onto the shoulder in Maryland (I suffered only a flesh wound, but it took days to settle my nerves). Vehicles whizzing by too close. (The vast majority of drivers kept their distance.)

The few dogs that chased me didn’t come close to catching me. Virginia and Tennessee are awash in concealed pistols, but I heard gunshots only once (at a distance) and never saw a weapon or felt threatened.

These tidbits, and the daily stories and photos I posted, help convey a feel for the journey. But you really had to be there.

From start to finish, I did not hear a harsh word about the Ride’s goals or HRF’s principles. Some people expressed fears or uncertainties, but no one said that our country should hurt or reject good people – and overwhelmingly, immigrants are good people.

The Ride leaves me hopeful. When we put aside loud talk, my unscientific encounters suggest that regarding immigrants and refugees, most of us Americans are on the same page.

Everywhere I went, I had offers of food and water, offers of shelter, offers of help, directions, discounts, friendly words and waves, and people’s time and insights. Strangers – some evidently poor – handed me cash totaling almost two hundred dollars, all of which went to Human Rights First.

My friends at Human Rights First, foremost among them Lauren Trinka and Justin Howard, kept information flowing both ways, and out over the blog to you.

Special thanks to Amy & Richard Glazier (DE); Irene & Mario Salazar (MD); Karen & Ned Wisnefske (VA); Barry & Heidi Allen (TN); and Jeremy, Robin, Charlotte & Julian Veenstra-VanderWeele (TN), for taking me into their homes. Even more than the wonderful food and shelter, I valued their company after days alone on the road.

My children – Deena, Rebecca, and Benjamin – helped me every day with logistics and encouragement.

The Experts say that a long-term relationship, such as a marriage, is healthier if the parties wear rose-colored glasses. That is, they see things not as they are, but as they want them to be. Sometimes seeing a partner in that rosy light is self-fulfilling; it makes hope into reality. Sometimes it is self-delusion. But without self-delusion, none of us mortals would get out of bed in the morning.

Nancy, who cheerfully puts up with my foolishness – riding cross-country with a kangaroo puppet is the tip of the iceberg – sees me through rose-colored glasses. How else could such a charming and successful person stand me for so long? (We’ve been friends for over 37 years, an Item for 32 of them.)

In contrast, my glasses are crystal clear. I see Nancy exactly as she is.

But the effect is the same. A rose viewed through clear glass is not only rose-colored. It is, in fact, a rose.

The self-delusion of a long-haul bike ride is addictive. Air, light, motion, are invigorating. Life becomes simple. One enjoys day after day of what Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (who was educated at, and taught at, The University of Chicago), calls “flow“. It is hard to leave that flow, hard to return to a place awash in things that conflict with our ancient hard-wired hunter-gatherer nature. But Nancy is back in the city. As long as Nancy, my friend, my rose, is there, I want to be nowhere else.

Leonard & Leonard

Jeffrey here. Today Joey is silent.

Another beautiful day in Nashville.

City.

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Country – specifically, hilly Warner Park.

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The rich places in between. (The mural is remarkable. The biggest Belle Meade, TN, houses were impossible to photograph behind their walls and trees. The horses are sculptures.)

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I didn’t talk as much today. I thought about Leonard and Leonard.

New Jersey Leonard was kind, dapper, charming, gregarious. A sage. A leader. A joiner. A social worker. A humanitarian. When he died, his widow gave me some of his shirts. Those shirts – including this blue one – went on the Ride to Postville.

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I knew this Leonard. I remember him.

California Leonard was a loner, and a man of action. He played guitar in a rock band. He played tennis. He was a park ranger, a chemist/environmentalist, fought forest fires. He rode bicycles. He died after a motorcycle accident in Alaska. His brother gave me some of his shirts. Those shirts – including this orange one – went on the Ride to Nashville.

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I never knew this Leonard. I remember him no more than I remember Abraham Lincoln. His brother remembers.

We pretend to own things. But everything is borrowed or rented.

Shirts. Land. Even our country.

Out here on the road, I can’t find a reference, but I think King Solomon advised us to move slowly, because soon the world will belong to others.

Travel by bicycle helps us to move fast enough to get somewhere, and slowly enough to gain perspective.

I wear shirts that belonged to men who are dead, in a country in which history is imagined, not remembered, because most of that history happened before any of us was born.

The things we fight about seem so petty.

Aristotle said, be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. Our immigrant neighbors – particularly the unauthorized – are fighting as hard as anyone.

I think of Leonard. And Leonard. And their shirts. And I say, let all our neighbors live. Let them be. For soon the things we and they are so desperate to grasp, will belong to others.

Tomorrow I speak at a gathering organized by the TIRRC. To read about them, click on Davy Crockett in the sidebar to the right on the Website, rideforhumanrights.com .

“Music City” Snapshots

Chairs set up for graduation on the leafy Vanderbilt University campus.

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A Catholic church with what struck us as unusual architecture. We tried to see the inside, but it was locked.

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A cheery couple visiting from Lewiston, NY, north of Niagara Falls. You don’t have to be from Alaska to see a foreign country from your American living room! They were interested in the whys and wherefores of the Ride.

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There is visual art here, too, not just country music.

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There is rich history.

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Note the misspelling below.

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These gentlemen, Pete and Johnny, admired the Lightning and talked about how far we came and why we did it.

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Janet works for the police department. She likes that HRF helps refugees and with the support of retired U.S. generals and admirals, works to stop human rights abuses in the U.S. and worldwide. She snapped our photo by the Cumberland River.

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TJ, Rusty, and O were glad to hear about the Ride and wished us well in our campaign to get people thinking and to raise funds for HRF and TIRRC.

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Geshan Alwis, an American software designer, born in Sri Lanka, lived 10 years in New Zealand before moving to Nashville. He was curious about the Lightning and our campaign. He said our country is recognized as a human rights leader around the world, yet that sometimes we fall short. He is a true patriot, because rather than assume America has all the answers, he wants to make our country better.

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We ended the working part of our day with a visit to the Nashville International Center for Empowerment (“NICE”), http://www.empowernashville.org/ . There we met Kathy Edson of Nashville Public Television; Gatluak Thach, who at age 6 was a child soldier in South Sudan, at age 18 was an illiterate refugee in snowy South Dakota, who made the most of the opportunities offered by his new country (America) and 7 years ago founded NICE to help first women, then all newcomers, learn English and the skills they need to be part of American society.

Here we are with Kathy Edson, Gatluak, and some of the staff. The whole office turned out to welcome us and tell us about themselves – they come from all over the U.S. and all over the world – and their work.

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Below, L to R: Gatluak, Kerry Foley (Community Development Director), Kathy.

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NICE is short-staffed and underfunded. There is a waiting list to get into its English and other classes. There is a chronic shortage of transport for its clients. With the help of NPT, they are trying to educate the locals with videos

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and otherwise; a community that understands NICE’s mission will more likely provide resources closer to meeting immigrants’ needs. A surprising number of people in Nashville don’t realize that the city is an immigrant magnet. Many mistakenly assume that immigrants all are Mexican and unauthorized (“illegal”, to use the common, rude, and inaccurate term). Even we were surprised to learn that Nashville has the largest population of Kurdish-born people in the U.S.A.

Like other authorized immigrants – some would say, like all immigrants – Nashville’s immigrants have the right to be here. They also have responsibilities to the community. NICE is working hard to equip them to meet those responsibilities.

We enjoyed spending time among these new friends.

On the way back toward the city center, we met Charles Flagg.

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Mr. Flagg writes Gospel songs and humorous songs. He sang us one of the latter. A bicyclist himself, he was fascinated by the Lightning, and handed us a donation toward HRF’s work.

We met a lot more people today than we’ve told you about. Crossing guards, police officers, construction workers, tourists, local people – so many had kind greetings, warm words, wished us well. We don’t know if Nashville really is “Music City” – some might think the name pretentious – but for us, it has been “Friendly City”.

All this, and Elvis too!

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