I am currently en route to Pakistan for our sixth UPIC trip over the past five years. It is an important moment in our long-term effort to help ease tension between our two countries. As we build relationships, alter stereotypes and continue to implement an action agenda developed during previous trips, we can count ten sustained efforts (mostly in Pakistan) that are a direct result of this work. The geopolitical uncertainties caused by shifts in the political climate make this time especially important as Pakistanis can see concrete examples of American religious leaders, scholars and community organizers who are concerned enough about US-Pakistani relations to “stay the course” irrespective of the uncertainties that surround them.
A sixteen hour flight, coupled with my approaching retirement at the end of April, provides a significant opportunity for reflection—not only about why Intersections does this work in Pakistan, but why we are also engaged in issues of community policing and transgender rights and healing the military/civilian divide in the US. The recent electronics ban on aircraft traveling in and out of the Gulf States, mandates that I write down these thoughts the old fashioned way, with pen and pad. Armed with stylus and papyrus while hurtling toward Central Asia, I thought about what I might share with you. My mind wandered, as it often does, to our two youngest grandchildren—Sonoma and Nico.
My wife Blythe and I are blessed to have them living just a few blocks away from our home in Jersey City and we have had the incalculable joy of watching them grow from infancy. Just 17 months apart—Sonoma is ten, Nico is just turning nine—they are often mistaken for twins. Yet, despite their similar physical features, they could not be any more different. It is in experiencing these differences that our joy is magnified.
Sonoma is assertive and creative, “fierce” she says about herself. Unprompted, she sings and writes and makes jewelry. Her voice is angelic (no bias here!) and her writings illustrate a wisdom far beyond her years. Nico, who looks like me—boy, is that a kick!—is more laid back. Once when he and I were leaving Intersections’ office, the security guard in our building blurted out, “Twins!” At Nico’s seventh birthday party, one of his friends came up to me and said, “You look just like Nico.” He is a gamer, learning to use a computer before he could read and dabbling in writing code in an effort to create his own video game. Symbolic of their different approaches to life: When encountering a new project, Nico studiously reads the directions and meticulously follows each step; Sonoma casts the instruction booklet aside and tries to figure it out on her own.
And yet, even at their young ages, they have obvious respect for and pride in one another. It is fascinating to see the energetic Sonoma sit still, sometimes for hours, and watch as Nico displays his prowess at X-Box or the Wii. And Nico will offer thoughtful and creative plot twists for the latest book Sonoma is writing. We can learn so much from these kids about how to treat one another with mutual respect and dignity, recognizing and affirming the differences among us while giving others the space to explore who they are—their hopes and fears, passions and possibilities. We need to listen to them more, and emulate them as we work (and play) across lines of difference.
At this point in my vocational life, when exciting opportunities await just around the next turn, my reflections—through the lens of experiencing my grandchildren grow—focus on the blessings of the past and the challenges of the present. And as we get ever closer to Pakistan, the thoughts of my grandkids remind me that this is why I do what I do. If in some small way, I can help heal the wounds of this fractured planet and make the world a better, safer, more life-affirming place for my grandchildren and their generation, then there can be no greater privilege.