Take a deep breath and notice our world

Published 6:54 am Wednesday, June 17, 2020

If you watch the news—with all that’s going on, we seem drawn to it like a moth to a flame—you would think the world is burning around us, that people can’t wait to storm and loot Wal-Mart (have you seen the video from Tampa?), that American citizens are throwing off the United States government and forming their own state (have you seen the video from Seattle?).

If you watch that big screen with the small brain, you think the world is coming apart at the seams. But is that really true?

Just for fun, I walked behind my television, peeked over the top, and without it as my filter I decided to ignore the talking heads and see for myself what my world really looks like. It’s one thing to live in a world, and it’s a whole ‘nother thing to pay attention to that world, to see it as it is, and to experience it truly.

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I wanted to see how black people and white people get along in the real world. Are things as bad as they want us to think?

As I looked around the Valley, and I’m not sure that the world I live in looks too much like the world the press is showing us.

I live in the Valley, a unique little place filled with ancient boundaries. It began as a mill village, and though the mills are long gone—the victim of changing times and bad politics—a mill village it still is. Lanett and West Point were the only cities until the City of Valley came along. Valley is made up of what we used to think of—and what I still think of—as Shawmut, Langdale, Riverview, and Fairfax. Huguley remains a doggedly independent land that Lanett and Valley have fought over—probably more than you realize. Did you know that the governor himself had to settle things down when that battle became heated? Maybe I’ll tell that story sometime.

So when I think of my home town, these days at least, I think of the Valley as one thing. Divided, yet together. Interesting parallel for our times, right?

I checked the census. I looks like Chambers County—all of the Valley except West Point is in Chambers County–has around 33,000 people. About 57% of them are white and about 40% of them are black. In 2012—the last year we have dependable statistics for—white people owned about 1635 businesses, and minorities owned about 1107.

So that’s what we look like on paper. But that’s just paper. It was time to see what I could see.

When I got to my office on Monday the sun was up and the air had that smell that only comes after the washing of a late-afternoon spring shower. I noticed my neighbors were out taking their morning walks. A couple of black ladies walked by, chatting merrily as they strolled, but pausing to wave to me. A white lady who always walks alone strolled by. A black man limped down the new sidewalk, and I wondered if he’d hurt his knee as he raised his walking stick at me and I raised my coffee cup at him and we both said “Morning”.

Someone told me a story about going to our Valley Wal-Mart. Traffic on highway 29 came to a stop, and she expected a traffic accident to be the culprit. What she saw was a black man riding a bicycle laden with bags. He was having trouble maneuvering, so a white lady stopped and was loading his bags into her car. A white man stopped and loaded the bicycle into the back of his pick-up. No one was angry; people were just trying to help.

Friday I was north of Lafayette and driving south on Highway 50 headed for home. I was tired and ready for supper. I turned a corner and saw that the traffic ahead of me had come to a full stop. That’s bad on a two-lane road. As I crept closer, I saw the flashing lights of emergency crews up ahead. An ambulance passed me headed north, siren blaring.

There was a wreck—it looked like a bad one—and it took up most of the road. I knew that I’d be stuck there for a while. I wasn’t sure what to do, but I’d seen a turnoff road a couple of hundred yards behind me. I turned around and headed to it.

When I got there, a man in a red and white truck got out and waved me down. He was a black man, and he looked like he had just come from work. I stopped, rolled down my windows, and without me even asking, he directed me down a tiny lane (barely a paved road), through a neighborhood that I didn’t know existed, and back onto Highway 50 just past the wreck. No one made him help a bunch of stranded strangers, and I didn’t even ask him for directions (I was about to), but he saw the wreck, stopped his truck, and helped. He didn’t have to do that, but I was mighty thankful he did.

I’m glad I took a deep breath this week and noticed my world. What I saw made me feel better.

The national news would have us think that black folk and white folk can’t get along, that someone has set fire to the world.

But here, and I expect in thousands of small areas all across this country, we are busy just living our lives. While the world seems to be going crazy, our little corner, the Valley, seems to be getting along just fine.

Are we perfect? No. We are filled with imperfect people who are stumbling through this life the best they can. But we are trying.

I hope things settle down. I hope these awful news stories go away. But until they do, maybe we should all turn off the big boxes with the little brains.

The world could do a whole lot worse than to come to Chambers County and take a look-see. I know it helped me.