The following words of hope are taken from a reader of this column. I was given permission to post this writing, but he prefers to remain anonymous:
"I am a sixty-four year old male, married with two adult children. In 2008 I was on a three-week teaching assignment in Vietnam and Singapore. I was not feeling well and thought it was due to long hours of instruction. I was treated for an unknown virus and after two weeks I ended up in Raffles Hospital in Singapore.
"I was diagnosed with an unknown virus and liver problems and advised to see a specialist upon arrival back in the United States. Other than having the flu or minor colds, I had never been sick a day in my life.
"Little did I realize that this diagnosis would be a complete life-changer. Upon return to the United States, I was referred to the Liver Program at California Pacific Medical Center for an initial examination and treatment.
"My initial examination on December 11, 2008 confirmed that I was in end stage liver disease and would need to be evaluated for a liver transplant. My initial thoughts did not even consider a transplant; I was just trying to find out what type of virus I had contracted in Vietnam. I really never had any idea how serious my condition was.
"I was admitted to California Pacific Medical Center on December 19, 2008, for treatment and transplant evaluation. I felt perfectly fine but my health began to deteriorate rapidly. I was placed on the transplant list on December 31, 2008, in the No. 1 position. The doctors informed me that if I didn't get a new liver I wouldn't live. I had only hours, at best, to live when on January 8, 2009 the liver transplant was performed successfully.
"I never gave up hope that a liver would become available for me. There is no greater feeling than to receive the gift of life. I will forever cherish the kindness of the donor and/or family members who gave me this gift."
I asked this person to share his story because not only is it one of hope, but also an example of what can happen when discourse remains at a healthy and respectful level.
Our exchanges began with his taking severe umbrage to a column I wrote in November. After several subsequent exchanges, we soon discovered that neither was the sum total of the views surrounding the column in question.
It didn't hurt that he, too, was an avid San Francisco Giants fan.
His words of hope, expressed in today's column, have nothing to do with the issue de jour.
The tragedy in Tucson has, at least temporarily, prompted many to call for improved discourse among elected officials. But why would we hold those we send to represent us to a standard higher than what we are prepared to pursue?
If we remain content to stand behind the gated enclaves of our ideology, why would we not continue to seek only those whose perspective already supports our pre-existing beliefs?
Assuming history is a true indicator, calls for improved discourse are the temporary musings that will soon fade into the pantheon of America's tragic moments, joining the likes of Pearl Harbor, Oklahoma City and 9/11.
We're not going to rid the country of disagreement and that should never be the goal in a democracy.
But the aforementioned words of hope, along with the discourse that led to it appearing on this page, is a reminder to all that improved discourse does not begin on Capitol Hill, in Sacramento, or the cable talk shows.
If the political rhetoric is to change, it must begin with us and what we are willing to accept. It must also include our enthusiasm to risk engaging with those who might see the world differently in order to discover that just beyond our politics of difference are the hidden treasures of shared values.
Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist. He is the author of Strip Mall Patriotism: Moral Reflections of the Iraq War. E-mail him at email@example.com or visit his Web site byronspeaks.com