Sharon and I have known one another for five years. It's a modern friendship, thanks to cyberspace and a keen fandom for a TV show about a deaf FBI agent. Yes, we met at the TWoP forum; Sharon emailed me offsite, looking for VHS tapes of previous seasons. We spent the season talking about the show, and in classic getting-to-know-all-about-you scenarios, we moved into talking about our kids, work, my (acrimonious) divorce and her (content) marriage - and then there was politics, religion and race.
Not pleasant subjects to talk about with a new friend, especially a friend unseen. Our friendship began as Bush & Company outlined plans for the Iraq war. It was if we both made certain we stuck to the safe script at-hand: TV shows, kids, relationships, the rising price of gas and heating oil. Then the 2004 election dawned, layoffs picked up, the Dixie Chicks were being burned in effigy, and there was this new invention called "freedom fries." Sharon and I slowly started to share our thoughts discuss, in mutual trepidation and quiet alarm, the real state of this nation we both love. And in one line, in one email, Sharon opened up an intimate firestorm for me.
"I'm guess I'm a liberal." Sharon went on to explain that they didn't live in the most liberal part of Pennsylvania. "So am I", writing back.
We gingerly opened up the dialogue beyond the familiar. I had grown to love my pen pal, even if she was a conservative small-town right-winger. Hell, I'm an Okie from Muskogee - Northern by birth, Southern by God's grace. Contrary to Mrs. Palin's shrill declarations, Joe Six-Packs and Pop Warner Moms (sorry Miss Sarah, not a lot of Hockey Moms in Muskogee, Oklahoma) are a lot more complicated than the potential VP's "We's Just Simple-Folk Populism" road show the last few weeks would lead one to believe. Liberal or conservative, no matter our race, religious affiliation or lack thereof, sexual orientation - we're all in the same boat, always have been.
The 2004 election passes, and Sharon and I continue on, keeping up our regular missives, writing about all things that matter, and some things that don't. We question the intellect of Boston Legal - too many cast changes! Of course the meteoric rise of gas, and the businesses that close up and displace workers in her small town and my large town. Sharon's words, advice, and email links nurture me through illness and family mortalities. I return in-kind updates and information, games and puzzles for Sharon's grandkids.
2008 brings me a job layoff. Sharon cheers me on, an electronic reminder to push on. She sharply reminds me that any employer that "doesn't hire (me) is an idiot". We continue to keep up with our favorite TV shows, family challenges, and we gingerly voice our mutual concerns for the country we love.
"Did you get something in the mail yet? I sent you something," was the first line of Sharon's email reply. "Nope, haven't checked the mailbox yet, Sharon. Not up to sorting through rejection letters today." "Well, I sent you something. Let me know when you get it," a line Sharon would write several times to goad me into opening up my mailbox. I was, and still am unemployed, seeing a full Spring turn to Summer, Summer to Fall. The mailman brought me bills I couldn't pay, unemployment certifications and rejection letters. So emotionally low I was, I half-expected a draft notice.
Another reminder from Sharon forces me to open the mailbox. There's a card from her, a beautiful image of a Native-American dancer. Make it rain a change in my fortunes, I pray silently. Gift cards fall out. "Alice, this is just a little something to help, maybe you can tuck away for (your daughter's) Christmas..."
After a half-day of waterworks, holding the card and reading Sharon's words again, I thought of how my deceased mother - another small town girl - would insist during our family political debates that Americans will always step up to the plate, reach out, and take care of one another. Her family survived the Great Depression - she witnessed the legendary American Can-Do Spirit. The last few decades, we haven't seen much of that. Our jealousies and fears gave the new carpetbaggers and robber barons those opportunities to steal us blind, to take away our shared birthright.
We have, and will continue to move past the self-interested demagogues who've ripped up our great tapestry for the lining of their own pockets, until no future is left for any of us, and nothing matters. Or so it seems, in our 24-hour news cycle.
But, Sharon in my life, and for the betterment of our country's future, reinvigorates my patriotic spirit that our nation can get through the challenges in front of us. No Joe Six-Pack, or NASCAR dads, or Soccer/Hockey Moms - just Sharon the country mouse and Alice the city mouse - a Different Breed of Kindred. Good old-fashioned Americans looking to stand their country upright again.