Her eyes are piercing blue, an azure mix of intensity and compassion. I watch as she engages with my tribe- a tribe that holds a worldview so unlike her own, asks, listens, wonders, seeks, probes, gives.
Kellie had arrived the day before, smiling and hopeful, flying in from her blue-state Seattle to my red-state Nashville. It was a brave step. It’s one thing for us to write the goals of the Heart Perception Project on paper, quite another to touch down in the territory of the other tribe and walk among them.
I take her out to dinner in downtown Nashville. We stand in line to order, directly behind a lesbian couple. They kiss. I’ve never seen two women kiss. I’m shocked, but I don’t show it. Kellie is nonplussed. The conservative state the media has painted us to be isn’t exactly cooperating.
We wrestle with our material, wanting it to connect with both liberals and conservatives in our upcoming sessions. At the Town Hall, we look over our outlines one last time, then put flesh on bones and walk to the front to lead others in connecting despite their differences.
Through her eyes, I see the audience, my friends. Concerned over the deep chasm in our country, wanting to learn how to dialogue differently. Kellie asks curious questions. People share stories, shed tears. She shows compassion and empathy, finding emotions of others with which she can identify. That night, she writes a heartfelt post that ripples through both of our communities with comments and shares.
The next morning, we stop briefly at my church. Kellie warmly hugs my friends she had met the previous night. My husband is speaking from the stage about our global and local efforts to train pastors in Jordan, educate children in Uganda, support peacebuilding among tribes in Africa, help the destitute in Gatlinburg – and share Jesus. I stand next to her, trying to see through her eyes, concerned that she may see our love for others as agenda. We talk at length in the ensuing hours and I watch her try to believe the best.
That night, Kellie graciously tidies my house, helping me prepare for 12 of my friends to meet at our house for dinner. Over stir-fry, she shares her journey away from Christianity. They empathize with her emotion and share their own stories with authenticity and tears. She offers ideas how we can be bridge-builders to her community through empathy and relationships.
The next morning, we make the trek to Renaissance High School, where we are guest speakers on the topic of “Allowing Diverse Views” in Joy Patton’s English classes. Before we walk in, we sit in the car, face to face, eye to eye, admitting that our conversation on the way there has triggered each other. Kellie admits she wasn’t as self-aware as she wished she had been. I admit I hadn’t listened as well as I could have. We sigh. This is hard work.
Fresh from walking our talk, we arrive in the classroom. The students are engaged and wide-eyed, asking questions and offering difficult scenarios for us to role-play. It’s rich and rewarding.
I see it in her eyes. She needs a nap. So do I.
For one last hurrah, we discuss abortion on the way to the airport, sit in the parking lot and discuss it more. Kellie assures me her community deeply values life, and, as she shares her heart, I can see a different perspective through her eyes. Tears flood the blue, and we commit once again to our friendship, to believing the best about each other.
We hug goodbye, and she disappears through security. The next time I see her in person will be when I travel to Seattle, touching down in the territory of her tribe to walk among them.
I walk back to my car and lay my head on my steering wheel before driving home. For a girl who hates tough conversations, the weekend had been terrifying and exhausting and exhilarating all at the same time. Kind of like someone with an aversion to water who is thrown into the ocean and doesn’t have any other choice but to swim or drown. And so, I swam, sometimes with arms flailing. I learned I have a lot to learn.
This endeavor to see through another’s eyes, to find connection in the midst of stark disagreement, is tough. But the newfound vision of hope it brings for our relationships, our communities, and our country, makes it all worth it.