Lessons from the Grand Canyon

Rafting the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon with my 22-year old daughter, Gioia, stirred my soul like only peak experiences can. For five days last month we were immersed in the Canyon’s magnificence, completely cut off from the outside world. What a gift! Engulfed in a timeless hallowed space, every moment felt sacred.

Captivated by this ancient canyon, I began to discern a deeper perspective on life in our country as well as on planet Earth. We, Americans, are such a tiny spec of history. Nearly two billion years old, the Grand Canyon opens up a most profound lens from which to examine our lives.

In the 100+ degree, dry heat of the Canyon, life is truly precious. Everyone on our voyage (24 people in six rafts) looked out for each other’s health and safety. We made sure we all had enough drinking water, sunscreen and protective clothing. Running the rapids, we paddled in harmony to avoid being capsized by the five-foot or greater waves crashing over us. Hiking in the Canyon, we extended a helping hand to one another as we climbed up steep granite rocks. We understood our welfare, perhaps even our lives, depended on our mutual support.

Outside the Canyon, however, Americans don’t often hold that belief. Yes, we have our communities and neighborhoods where people work cooperatively to plant gardens or watch out for burglars. But, generally, Americans like to go their own way, the preferred choice of a private vehicle over mass transit being the textbook example. Moreover, we think we know best and distrust those with contrary opinions. Consequently, we are less inclined to engage with others outside our familiar circles to develop more inclusive solutions to a communal issue. Frequently, it takes an immediate crisis for most Americans to pull together for the common good.

This phenomenon is plainly evident in our nation’s current politics. While both the country’s healthcare system and infrastructure, among other major concerns, badly need improving, our politicians are too tied to their respective parties, not to mention their big money donors, to work together on broad-based answers to these problems. After many months of bickering, it took the disaster of Hurricane Harvey and the pending Hurricane Irma catastrophe for Congress to finally pass meaningful legislation to assist the American people.

While many factors determine our actions and attitudes, one influence appears to stand out when I reflect on my unifying experience in the Grand Canyon compared to the more diffuse, often divisive, atmosphere in the rest of our country and the world. It’s the sacred space of the Canyon that made all the difference.

In the depths of the Canyon, there were no competing voices. No TV commercials. No op-eds. No Big Money influencing one’s views. Not even any bills to pay or emails to answer. There was nothing between the grandeur of the Earth, our precious home, and me. Yet, that space was not empty. It overflowed with Spirit, and filled my heart and soul.

I wonder what it would take for each of us to rise above all the noise and confusion of our modern world and live in that sacred space where unity, the common good, was our primary goal. Of course, that’s a huge challenge. But if we each took it on, I’m certain our country, as well as the planet, would be so much better off. Are you willing to give it a try?

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An Open Letter To President-Elect Trump

Dear President-Elect Trump,

I hope that you have noticed the rising level of animosity and fear in our country since your election. Many of your supporters as well as your detractors are very upset. Ironically, I doubt it would have been much different had you lost, perhaps even worse.

Your supporters have threatened violence and call those who opposed your election “sore losers.” Your detractors are plotting how to resist and derail your presidency. While I must admit that I fall in the latter camp, my intent here, which I hope you will share, is to help reduce the tension in our nation.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has tracked over one thousand acts of bias intimidation and harassment targeting Muslims, blacks, Latinos, immigrants, and LGBTQ people since Election Day. (See https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch.) This state of affairs does not bode well for our country.

As the soon-to-be president of all Americans, you are in the best position to take constructive action to ease our national anxiety. Consequently, I respectfully urge you to consider taking the following steps:

1. In the spirit of the holidays, go on national television and express your good will toward all Americans. Tell them that you want to understand their anger and fear, but violence and intimidation will not be tolerated. Explain that you intend to be the President of all Americans.

2. Be a gracious winner and make an offer of reconciliation. Don’t just go to areas of the country that supported you. Reach out to Americans who opposed your candidacy. Show them that you are interested in their issues and want to address their concerns as well. Keep in mind that the majority of the electorate did not vote for you. Dialogue with Americans of all persuasions.

3. Expand your cabinet choices so that all Americans will feel represented in your administration. To date, your appointments appear to favor a small, elite segment of the population. You need to include people who can empathize with a much greater portion of the American people. More than one Republican served in President Obama’s cabinet. You can and should include Democrats in yours.

4. Make some policy proposals that demonstrate you really are listening to people with different viewpoints. Most Americans have nowhere near the wealth and privilege that you and those you’ve chosen for your cabinet have. You are their President too. It is your duty and responsibility to serve their needs as well. And, finally,…

5. Listen to your critics. You don’t have to agree with them, but they do have a right to their opinions. Remember the First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Belittling those who oppose you does not become the President of the United States. Being open to criticism is a positive trait that will make you a better president.

Clearly, these are difficult times for many Americans. If you heed these suggestions, I feel you will make it a bit easier for yourself as well as for the rest of us. May God bless America.