Another Passage…

Years ago, I bought a small book entitled, How a Man Ages: Growing Older, What to Expect and What You Can Do About It. At the time it was curiosity more than concern that captured my interest, but just before this New Year turned over I had a birthday, got new glasses, and had knee surgery. How a Man Ages is more relevant to my life in 2019 than it was when I first read it. Today, I’m thinking about how the past and future come together as we grow older.

Years ago, my former wife and I bought four silkscreen prints made by Sister Mary Corita Kent, a hip Roman Catholic nun in the Los Angeles Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary order. As an artist and social commentator, Sister Corita Kent was ahead of her timeShe’s gone now but her work is still tres avant garde. The four prints we bought are meant to go together but can be arranged creatively in any order – vertically, horizontally, or in a square. They make sense however they are presented.

Invoking the spirit of Corita Kent, here’s how I read and react to them in 2019:

Be implores me to live in the present – to simply Be. I no longer make New Year resolutions, but in 2019 I will do my best to Be the best husband, father, grandfather, cousin, friend and citizen I can possibly Be – in order to bring harmony and balance to all sides of my life.

Sister Mary Corita said, “The only rule is work. If you work, it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all the time who eventually catch onto things.” If I honor Sister Corita’s dictum, I’ll let go of the memoir-like book I’ve been thinking about writing, work hard, and “eventually catch on to things.” I’ve led a full and interesting life, but as the Kevin Costner character advises his rookie pitcher in the baseball movie, Bull Durham, “Don’t think too much, Luke, it’s bad for the ball club.” Maybe, if I let go, don’t think too much, and just Be in 2019 the book I dream of writing will find it’s way out.

In 2019 I’ll work to keep “Of Love” as my guiding principle. Love has meant many things and carried different weights over my lifetime. It’s the mystery that gives meaning to our lives along a spectrum that extends from parental love on the front end to sexual passion in the middle and full-blown intimacy, if we’re lucky, on this end.

As a child, love insured my survival and bonded me to my mother and father. As a teen, it (hormones) overwhelmed my brain and body. It was all sex and romance. It was the temptation my father warned me against. I was barely a teen when he told me I was “too interested in girls.” Years later, I realized that both my parents were repressed and fearful when it came to sex, but in that brief moment with my Dad my life changed. Now I know he simply didn’t have the tools to deal with a teenage son’s puberty and sex drive. At the time, I felt powerless to change what was happening to my mind and body. My survival strategy was to hide my feelings and relationships. If I wanted to please my parents and have their love, I had to keep an important part of my life from them. I became secretive, and as an adult I remained secretive and looked for love, as they say, “in all the wrong places.” I married two bright, beautiful women but couldn’t stay the course with either one. In retrospect, those marriages could have been saved if I had been more of an adult, but I was reckless and secretive. I wasn’t able to be the person I wanted to be.

Twenty years ago, Marilynn, my childhood friend, and I reconnected. She tells our friends I was her 5th Grade boyfriend, but she didn’t share that with me until we were 60 years old. Today, the restlessness that haunted my earlier relationships is gone. Love has taken a different form. Now, at night, we often find ourselves reaching out under the covers to touch or hold hands. Sometimes, when it’s very quiet, we need reassurance that the other is there, still warm and breathing. It’s a subtle way of saying I love you. We’re both aware that our remaining time is limited. We can’t say it often enough.

Of Love” applies to our children and grandchildren as well. Our children are busy with their own lives and often “Of Love” gets lost in the chaos of their work, soccer, music lessons, ski team and the daily demands of being good parents. We’re there for our kids and grandkids, but sometimes we feel more like observers than participants. Their lives will change but they don’t know it now. “Of Love” will be back.

This may be, for me, the most important of the four serigraphs and the one that shows best “How a Man Changes” over time. For decades I engaged in reckless behaviors that endangered my life and the lives of others. Before I was old enough to drive legally, I hotwired my parents’ car and took friends joyriding. As a Marine pilot I flew an F-8 Crusader down the main street of Santa Ana California at what the Santa Ana Register claimed was “car top” level. The Marine Corps didn’t court-martial me and I went off to law school in Berkeley where, on a dark rainy night, I drove my motorbike at full speed into a car that was backing up the street. The bike was totaled, and I woke up in an Oakland hospital with minor injuries and a court date for drunk driving. I could go on, but I know now that I was lucky to survive those and other motorcycle, ski, scuba, sailing, and driving incidents over the years.

But, time works changes as the body is transformed, and being “(A Little) More Careful” means something much different today than it did when I was younger. As we age our bodies (and brains) change. Parts wear out, memory fades, endurance and strength diminish, aerobic capacity and muscle mass decrease, and skin sags. It goes with the territory. It’s How a Man Ages.

Twenty years ago, when we were making annual bike trips to Europe, M and I told ourselves we would tour Holland when we couldn’t climb the hills anymore. We rode our bikes through Holland and Belgium in 2009, but the fact we couldn’t ride the hills anymore didn’t stop us. Today, “(A Little) More Careful” means we ride trails and bike paths alongside rivers and lakes in the flats. M has a titanium knee and ceramic hip. I have less knee cartilage, and can’t hear high frequencies, so… we’re “(A Little) More Careful.”

“Than of Everything” pulls the changes all together. It’s a summation of all the elements in Sister Corita’s homage to “Be, Of Love, (A Little) More Careful.” It reminds me that love is not guaranteed, that it is fragile and takes work. “Everything” covers a lot of territory and tells me not to overlook even the smallest thing. Be grateful for everything.  I’m looking forward to 2019 but know that nothing is guaranteed and that it’s important to remember to “Be, Of Love, (A Little) More Careful, Than of Everything.”

The Trump Antidote…

I’m not easily upset or given to anxiety, but several recent high blood pressure readings on routine doctor visits raised a little concern at home. The readings particularly alarmed Marilynn, who is always surprised to hear that my blood pressure and cholesterol are lower than the average bear’s in spite of my affection for mayonnaise, eggs, butter, and sugar. So, in the interest of domestic peace, I caved and agreed to have it checked out.

I secretly hoped that the visit would be like the one to the car mechanic where, after an exhaustive inspection, the technician shakes his head, declares the problem non-existent, and hands me a bill for the labor. It turns out, luckily, that my suspicions were right; my doctor took three readings in the 120/70 range, smiled knowingly, and sent me home…with a bill for services.

In retrospect, my own diagnosis is “transient Donald Trump effect.” Hours spent listening to MSNBC tweet storm after tweet storm. After a while my muscles tense, my blood pressure rises, and I begin to shout at the TV. Not a blood pressure problem – just a form of global political stress. I’m sure I’m not alone, but if I’m going to survive the next two years I need to divine a coping strategy.

So, reassured that BP is not the problem, Marilynn and I began thinking of a survival strategy. Our first act was to acknowledge that our preference for dark little art films probably wasn’t increasing our joy and feeling of well-being. In the past few weeks we’ve seen Black Klansman, Collete, Can You Ever Forgive Me, The Wife, and Roma. None of them have you leaving the theater with a smile on your face. We need to let our affection for these dark, arty films slide for the time being. On Christmas Day we substituted Mary Poppins Returns.

I was skeptical but willing to try. Would this just be saccharine eye/ear candy? Those of you who know me will understand. I’m not a fan of animated films (there is animation). I’m not attracted to special effects where people fly (Mary flies). And, feel good films made primarily for children (this is one of those) are not in my wheelhouse. So, Mary Poppins Returns looked like a serious test of our new strategy. Surprisingly, it passed with flying colors (no pun intended) thanks to Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda, and I really did leave the theater smiling.

I’ve grown to love modern technology. Almost everything has a digital analog these days, and with TiVo and Roku there are so many options from Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, YouTube, Pandora and others. When I was learning how to use a computer (remember MS-DOS?) one of my motivations was knowing that if I mastered the basics, I could access the New York Public Library’s reference section. Imagine… Today, MS-DOS is ancient history and so are Internet Explorer, Alta Vista, Yahoo and the other early search engines. Today, it’s all about Google and research is as close as your next key stroke. My daughter writes for national publications from her Hailey, Idaho home and my wife manages a senior health care consultancy from Saigon, Berlin, Paris, and Rome – wherever we happen to be – with her MacBook Pro.

So, after seeing Mary Poppins Returns, we came home and pulled up YouTube on our living room TV and watched parts of the original Julie Andrews/Dick Van Dyke version, saw interviews with the actors, songwriters, screenwriters, and directors of both versions, and… it sounds pretentious, but also talked about the relevance of Mary Poppins to what’s going on in the world today.

Think about the films–both Mary Poppins’ versions. They’re about young families with small children. The Banks families – Jr. and Sr. They’re both struggling financially. In Returns the young mother dies. The distraught husband, a teller at the bank that holds the deed, neglects to make a house payment (the wife’s job) and they fall behind on their mortgage. The evil bankers, pretending to help, foreclose. In the first film the father, is fired by Mr. Dawes, the evil banker, but dies laughing at one of Mr. Banks’ Sr.’s jokes. I won’t give away the ending of the new film, but it’s equally satisfying.

So, how far do we have to go to find real life parallels? Not so far, it turns out. Trump’s Secretary of the Treasury made a fortune foreclosing on sub-prime mortgages sold to vulnerable people who shouldn’t have been given mortgages in the first place. In November, Munchkin and his thin-skinned trophy wife were making news at the US Mint while simultaneously disparaging the poor unfortunates who are unable to afford the luxe items she lives for. Indulge me while I imagine the Munchkins dying of laughter on their way to the bank. Life imitates art?

So… the strategy is working. My blood pressure is down and I’m having so much fun I’ve forgotten about Donald J. Trump. I’m reminded of Norman Cousins’ book Anatomy of an Illness in which Cousins, afflicted with a life-threatening disease, initiated a revolution in patient care by adopting the innovative theory that humor can marshal the body’s natural resources to combat disease. Thank you, Mr. Cousins; you and Mary Poppins have me smiling again. We’re on a roll.

Marilynn is lifelong fan of musical theater and she has brought me along in the last few years. They’re seductive and habit-forming. Two weeks ago, we saw Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights, another feel good, smile generating musical – this one with an immigrant theme. How timely. These feel-good entertainments are charged with deeper meanings. Who knew?

At the end of Mary Poppins Returns, Mary flies away, and and as we left the theater we reminisced about how other musicals had also made us feel good. We remembered seeing Singing in the Rain for the first time and after checking out the Mary Poppins stuff on YouTube, we went to Amazon Prime and put Singing in the Rain on our watchlist. I suppose it’s the time we live in, but in these perilous times it’s easy to find secret messages in these feel-good movies.

Singing in the Rain is about how technology changed the film industry. It’s hard to find a more current topic. In the musical, the story line is about the transition from silent films to talkies. The star, Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), loses her star role because of her shrill voice and Queens accent while Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) becomes a star because she can sing, dance – and talk. No lip synching (yes, lip-synching is what brings Lina down). Think Milli Vanilli, Ashlee Simpson, and Victoria Beckham.

And, if you think it’s a stretch to see Singing in the Rain as political, check out how the Sunshine State News (Florida rag) uses it vis a vis today’s news.

In any event, I think we’re on to something. It’s important to find some balance in our lives and coping strategies to deal with both disease and Donald Trump. Trump will be gone soon enough, relatively speaking, but if we’re not in good health it won’t matter. Find your own survival strategy. For now, finding things that make me smile and take me briefly away from Oval Office tweet storms, is my strategy. To die laughing isn’t a bad end is it Mr. Banks?


Foreign Born…

I took this picture from inside the Newseum on our trip to the nation’s capital two weeks ago. We were there for our friend, Ed Moon’s, 80th birthday, but visiting Washington always includes civics and history lessons. I always feel a rush of patriotism whenever we visit and I see the classical architecture of the capital again. In 2016 we spent 10 days there just before the Trump takeover. We called that trip “The restore our faith in America tour” because we were alarmed at the Trump candidacy and hoped to be reassured that our country’s institutions were stable and functioning. Because of the election results our tour didn’t really end in 2016, but I have faith that Robert Mueller, my fellow Marine, will finish the restoration work when he completes his investigation of Trump/Russia. For now, it’s still unfinished business.

Nevertheless, it was reassuring to visit DC this time and be reminded that, at its core, Washington’s population is transient. Administrations come and go and so do their functionaries. They inhabit the place for a while and then move on, leaving behind a stable population that will feed, clean, shelter, and support the next wave of transients.

Last month, two years after taking office, Trump and his Republican allies had their first real test – the midterm elections – and rather than celebrate a strong economy, they settled on a singular strategy they thought would help them win – scare the bejeezus out of America with – the immigration problem. The invading hoards from Central America. The Caravan. Drug dealers. MS-13. Rapists. Terrorists. Disease carrying welfare leeches…foreigners. Scary folks rushing the border to take away what white folks have worked so hard to accumulate.

As the midterms approached, we were treated to a media blitz about the problem. Fox News breathlessly chronicled the slow, murderous procession approaching the border while we watched US Customs and Border Protection and the US military string razor wire along the border “fence.” It was an alarming and dramatic stunt to address a faux problem.

I wasn’t at the southern border, needless to say, but I’m alert to how immigration is affecting America and acutely aware of immigrant populations wherever I am. Here In Seattle we have a large mixed-Asian population. On the other side of the lake at Microsoft, it’s mostly Indian. In Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California it’s Hispanic. Minnesota has Somalis. Long Island has Russians. Houston, New Orleans, and Orange County have city-sized Vietnamese populations. Beverly Hills is loaded with Iranians. America is made up of immigrants. Some came long ago. Some came more recently. Together, they’ve created the fabric that makes America what it is.

In that spirit, here’s a list of some of the people I encountered in Washington – 2696 miles from the border in Tijuana, Mexico:

  1. Raga Raghavan – (Kerala, India) senior research scientist (30 years in America) whose son, Gautam, was a senior advisor and speech writer for President Obama and editor of Westwingers, an anthology of stories by Obama staffers currently a bestseller on Amazon.
  2. Salazar – (Bangladesh) Uber driver (42 years in America). Daughter is a lawyer. Up to date and well informed on US politics.
  3. Katya – (El Salvador) front desk manager at Marriott Suites in Bethesda (10 years in America)
  4. Jose – (El Salvador) bartender at Marriott Suites (15 years in America). Fabulous martinis.
  5. Miryam – (Columbia) dining room hostess at Marriott Suites (10 years in America). Frothy lattes in the morning.
  6. Fey (Ethiopia), Beronica (El Salvador), Weieny (Puerto Rico) – dining room servers in the Marriott Suites restaurant. Friendly, efficient, and welcoming.
  7. Salazar (Guatamala), Yusuf (Ethiopian), Eva (Venezuela) Washington DC Uber drivers. Courteous and professional.
  8. Unnamed housekeeping staff at Marriott Suites (El Salvador, Bolivia, Somalia, Columbia). Friendly, quick, unobtrusive, and accommodating.
  9. Christina (Serbia) lawyer who shared an Uber with us from Georgetown. In US on a work/study visa. Denied a visa extension though she had completed all the paperwork in a timely manner. When denied the visa she said “Fuck it. I did everything they asked. I loved being here on a work/study. I’m not going to fight it. I’m going to Florida and stay until I feel like leaving. Then I’ll go home to practice law.”
  10. Devann (Columbia) naturalized US citizen, daughter-in-law of Vorry Moon (retired Air Force Pilot) whose mother’s US citizenship paperwork was lost twice by USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services) with resulting application denials.
  11. Candace (US) Vorry Moon’s wife, a Homeland Security immigration specialist, who advised Devann and her mother to contact their Senator and US Representative to solve the US citizenship denial problem. Nice woman.

Marilynn and I had conversations with all of these foreign-born immigrants during our stay in DC. All are hardworking LEGAL residents of the US and all of them (except Christina the Serbian lawyer) are proud to be in America where they have better lives than they had in their homelands.

I find it hard to understand the Republican hysteria over immigration except as a dog whistle to reinforce the “base” – that bigoted, xenophobic 30% that pushed Trump over the line in 2016.

I find it equally hard to understand how the descendant of an Ashkenazi Jew who escaped pogroms in Belarus, landed penniless in America but built a successful business to support his descendants could become a militantly alt-right anti-immigration nut case? Stephen Miller, the man with the overstuffed briefcase (below) is that man-child – son of immigrants.


Yes, Stephen Miller, the grandson of poor Yiddish-speaking Jewish immigrants  who, in spite of their poverty, learned English, worked hard, and created wealth in America—”the classic immigration success story”–is now the shrill voice of right-wing anti-immigration zealots, who block (and slow meter) asylum seekers along America’s southern border, separating families, and establishing concentration camp-like facilities for those who cross over. It’s impossible to miss the irony in Stephen’s story.

Stephen is not unlike his boss, Donald Trump, whose grandfather Friedrich Drumpf emigrated from Kallstadt, Palatinate (then part of the Kingdom of Bavaria) in 1885 at age 16, became a U.S. citizen and set up the next generation to be successful, albeit crooked, real estate entrepreneurs.

Immigrants often bear the scars of the hard circumstances that drove them from their homes in search of better lives, but success in America is not a zero-sum game. It’s quite the opposite. My success is not at your expense. On the contrary, my success is likely to expand and create opportunities for you – new jobs, new horizons, and economic expansion. Wealth creates wealth—and Stephen Miller and Donald Trump have both been beneficiaries of their parents and grandparents’ success. So, what accounts for their mean-spirited, “I got mine pull up the ladder” selfishness?

Both men act in unhappy and emotionally stunted ways in spite of their unearned lifelong advantages. Both are thin-skinned and insecure. Trump may possess some kind of street smarts, but he’s dumb as a post when it comes to understanding what motivates people. Stephen was equally advantaged but was an outsider who envied others. Both lack empathy, that basic quality that would have prepared them to share what we as Americans have created for each other.

It’s clear to me that the current influx of immigrants – Syrian, Afghan, Iraqi, East Asian, Central American, and North African – have suffered hardships on long and arduous journeys to reach what Lincoln called ‘the last best hope of earth.” Immigration is not a partisan issue except for the cynical, avaricious, and self-involved. It is an issue we can come together to solve. Let’s do it.

Write your Congressman or Congresswoman. Do it now.


Celebrating a Long Friendship…

I’m not a fan of surprise parties, but when Bonnie Moon called me to say she and daughter Taylor were planning a surprise party for husband Ed’s 80th birthday I knew I didn’t want to miss it.

I snapped this on Saturday night as he was arriving at the party.

Ed and I met on January 2, 1967, our first day as Pan Am pilots. Ed was the third African-American pilot hired by Pan Am. We’ve been friends for 52 years. Through work, marriages, divorces, the birth of children, bases in New York, Berlin, and Miami, promotions, furloughs, stolen pensions, a company bankruptcy, illnesses, and unwanted retirements we’ve stayed connected. On Saturday night I saw Ed through different eyes – in his other world – surrounded by friends I had never met.

I had never given much thought to the path Ed and his friends traveled, though I knew it was different and more difficult than mine. He and I have never seriously discussed race, although it’s always been in the background. We were just friends. Years ago, he invited me to dinner at his parents’ modest home in Miami where I met his father, Hoyt, a chef at Mike Gordon’s upscale fish restaurant in Miami Beach. I was shocked, at the time, to learn that Mr. Moon, as a black man, had to show ID to cross the causeway to get to his job on Miami Beach, but I still didn’t appreciate the hurdles Ed, himself, endured to get where he is.

At the party, Bonnie told us of a friend, Jay Jenkins, who first met Ed in a “Colored Only” train station waiting room on their way to college. That story triggered a memory of my own…when after arriving in Pensacola for flight training, I was upbraided by a white couple in Dillard’s department store for drinking from a “Colored Only” drinking fountain. I still remember the confusion and embarrassment it caused. At the time, Seattle had its own version of segregation and racism – the Central District ghetto, the white’s only Rainier Club, Seattle Tennis Club, Women’s University Club, and others – but I wasn’t directly affected and it was more subtle than the out and out back-of-the-bus racism I was seeing in the South.

Flash forward…Ed graduates from Tennessee State University, is commissioned a second lieutenant, and becomes an Air Force pilot. After a Vietnam tour flying the F-100 he returns to the US to consider his future. In San Francisco he visits Perry Jones, the first African-American pilot hired by Pan Am, and Perry introduces him to O.B. Young, Pan Am’s second African-American pilot. Both men encourage him to apply to Pan Am, but the Thunderbirds aerial demonstration team is flying F-100s and Ed wants to tryout for the team. He tells Perry if he doesn’t make the team he’ll apply to Pan Am.

Even though one of 12 finalists, his hopes are dashed when he learns the team has rejected him. He learns later that it’s because “they aren’t ready for an African-American Thunderbird.” As a result, he leaves the Air Force, joins Pan Am, and our friendship begins. I’m sorry he didn’t get that Thunderbird slot; they missed out on a great pilot and team player but we wouldn’t be friends today if he had been selected.

Ed’s upward mobility didn’t stop when he was hired at Pan Am. In the ‘80s he was a founding member of the Organization of Black Airline Pilots (OBAP) and served as its President for several years. In that role he was asked to testify to Congress on the future of aviation and discrimination in hiring. In 1991, when Pan Am declared bankruptcy and we all lost our jobs, Ed was hired by United Airlines and started at the bottom of the seniority list again. When age forced his retirement at United, he moved on to the Transportation Security Agency where today he serves as Command Duty Officer in the operations department dealing with airport disruptions around the country.

Saturday’s event, in a banquet room at the Marriott Suites in Bethesda, Maryland, was a lovely sit down dinner for 50 with a DJ and open bar. In that room I was aware that my friendship with Ed was built around our work and friends at Pan Am, and though I’d met his family I had never met any of his other friends.

On Saturday night, Marilynn and I were seated at a table with three United Airlines captains (all African-American), three lovely former Pan Am (now Delta) flight attendants (all African-American), and Brigadier General Julius Johnson (left) a friend of Ed’s who fought in the horrific Vietnamese battles at Hue and Khe Sanh before commanding units of Army Special Forces. It’s difficult, in that setting, to believe that as recently as 1963 an African-American pilot (Marlon Green) had to take his case all the way to the US Supreme Court in order to be hired by a US airline. I guess that shows progress, but as Bob Dylan wrote, “Yes’n, how many years must a people exist/Before they’re allowed to be free?”

It’s clear that Ed is a trailblazer with an impressive resume’, but wife Bonnie is no less so. She began her career as a United Airlines flight attendant, became a UAL supervisor, then transferred to Pan Am where she became a Purser and flight attendant recruiter. While”air-lining” full-time she enrolled in law school, earned her degree and gave birth to their daughter, Taylor. She still hasn’t stopped; today she practices law in the District of Columbia with a specialty in guardianship – protecting those who have difficulty protecting themselves. We feel lucky to count them as our friends and to have met some of their other remarkable friends.

It may be age, or simply an awareness of how rare and valuable friendship is that’s led me to write more than one essay about friendship in recent months. It’s also a reminder of how the duration of some friendships, like the 52 years with Ed, that prompts me to search for the right words to celebrate those relationships. Whatever it is, I’m appreciative and aware that even though we’ve known each other for so long, there are always surprises and new friends to be found in these relationships.

In 2016, we visited Washington DC during the week the National Museum of African-American History and Culture opened, but we couldn’t get tickets in the rush of the Grand Opening. Last Sunday, following Ed’s party, we did. It’s a sobering experience… one that makes me both uncomfortable and proud. Uncomfortable to be white and acknowledge the unimaginable hardships black Americans have suffered, and proud to know so many of my friends who have succeeded in spite of that history.

P.S. – Last year I sent Ed a blog I’d written about a childhood experience I had with an African-American classmate named Corky White. We were 7 years old. One day, after school, I took Corky home to play. When my father came home he told me never to bring a black friend home again. Ed liked the blog and sent it out to his network. William Clay, a former Congressman, read it and responded by telling Ed he knew a Corky White who lived in Maryland but grew up in Seattle. Bill Clay checked and it was indeed the same Corky White. Thanks to Ed, Bill, and this six-degrees of separation, Corky and I reconnected 73 years after our childhood play date. In March of 2018, Corky, his wife Patsy, Marilynn and I, and our neighbors, George and Marianne Holifield, who knew Corky in high school, all had lunch together in Seattle. Small world and a tribute to Mr. Moon’s very large and varied network.

Feeling Sorry for Trump…

The universe works in mysterious ways… Last night, for the first time, I actually felt sorry for Donald Trump. It happened at a performance of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights at the Seattle Repertory Theater. Miranda’s hip hop/rap/salsa/merengue musical chronicles the lives of a group of Latinx immigrants full of hope and aspiration in the Washington Heights neighborhood at the northern tip of Manhattan. Some are first generation, some second, but they found their way to the Heights from all over Latin America – Cuba, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Puerto Rico – in search of a better life. What they find there, in the tenements and steamy summer heat of Upper Manhattan, is community and a shared humanity.

So, what caused my mind shift last night? It’s complicated. I’d been working on an article about the current border crisis but couldn’t figure out how to talk about it without dipping into typical liberal-speak about fear, racial bias, or the tired entreaties of “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” But, last night, the music and energy of In the Heights gave me the positive image I was looking for – hard working immigrants surging with energy, hope, and a devotion to community wanting to make a better life for themselves and their families. Yes, it’s a musical fiction. Yes, it’s riding the wave and enormous success of Miranda’s Hamilton. But, like all good art, its power comes from the emotion it releases in us and the truth it conveys.

I feel sorry for Donald Trump because he doesn’t know that joy of community. His body language tells us he’s never felt the liberating power of dance and music. His words and actions tell us he doesn’t understand or appreciate the value of artistic expression. As president, he has rejected two invitations to attend the Kennedy Center Honors, created to recognize “exceptional artists who have made enduring and indelible marks on our culture.” Nor has he invited a single artist to perform at the White House. Who can forget the Pablo Casals performance at the Kennedy White House, Bill Clinton playing the sax on the Arsenio Hall Show, or Lin-Manuel previewing the first song of Hamilton for the Obamas and friends when it was just being written? Trump’s ignorance and myopia prevent him from enjoying or acknowledging the contributions of the many diverse communities – Jewish, Hispanic, African-American, Irish, Italian, Polish, Arab, Asian – that make up the American experience. I feel sorry for him but I don’t forgive him for what he’s done to our culture and reputation.

In Trump’s America, walking on eggshells is easier than finding common ground for a discussion of immigration policy. I confess, I can’t wrap my head around the “why” of it, but his incendiary midterm election rhetoric and a fearful, lethargic Congress are keeping us from having a meaningful dialogue and finding a solution to the immigration “problem.”

At its core, the “problem” is difficult only because opposing camps have been unwilling to sit down and wrestle with the details. If we want to find a solution, both sides need to tamp down of the rhetoric, approach the discussion in good faith, summon our capacity for compassion, and be willing to compromise. At its simplest, it will require capital – human and financial – along with acceptance of the fact that war, anarchy, gang violence and corruption underlie the soaring number of immigrants surging along our southern border.

This is not normal, nor is it just an American problem…it’s worldwide. Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and the Americas are all experiencing unprecedented flows of refugee and migrant populations. In the Americas, that influx is putting immense pressure on the people and systems that protect our southern border. Refugees and migrants fleeing the danger in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador are increasing the stress at American border crossings.

To be clear, the migrants and refugees swarming toward us now are exceptions to normal immigration. Depending on who’s speaking these are “undocumented immigrants,” “illegal aliens,” “economic migrants,” or “bad people.” Each appellation has a layered connotation, but regardless of your political leanings, telling tens of thousands of people that they need to apply for admission to the United States through established procedural channels is an avoidance strategy not a solution. The current administration has its head in the sand if it thinks this mass movement is going to sit on its hands in Tijuana for 10 years in order to be considered for possible inclusion in normal visa flows.

Why isn’t Congress’ addressing the crisis? Lancing this festering boil on our southern border should be their number one priority. Until a solution is crafted the entire US government will be stalled. Can a divided Congress find the will to address it? We’re suffering and divided and will continue to be until it does. There are no simple solutions. It’s difficult but not impossible. In 2013 the US Senate passed the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, a bipartisan bill introduced and co-sponsored by the Gang of Eight (4 leading Republicans and 4 leading Democrats). Hearings were held, markups made, and on June 27, 2013 the Senate passed the bill with a vote of 68 to 32.

The bill provided “illegal immigrants” who resided in the US prior to December 31, 2011 a path to citizenship pending the payment of a fine, back taxes, and passing a background check without a criminal record. It also gave the children of illegal immigrants, the so-called “Dreamers,” permanent resident (Green Card) status. It beefed up the border fence and increased the number of US Customs and Border Protection agents and introduced a “merit-based visa system” to deal with future legal immigration.

Despite bipartisan Senate passage, the House of Representatives under Speaker John Boehner refused to bring the bill to a vote. It died on the floor of the House. Today, the problem still exists, and we are further from a solution than we were in 2013.

Some Americans, fueled by Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric, see a threatening invasion of Central Americans on our southern border, but immigration is not just an American problem. In the UK, hard feelings and divisions over immigration forced a vote that resulted in Britain’s departure from the European Union. Similarly, European countries dealing with an unprecedented wave of refugees from war torn Middle Eastern and North African countries are straining to find resources and struggling to assimilate diverse populations. In Myanmar, Rohingya natives fleeing genocide are relocating to an unwelcoming Bangladesh. The underlying causes of these problems are many, but their geographic distribution makes it clear that immigration is not, as Donald Trump wants us to believe, primarily an American phenomenon.

Most countries, including America, have a system in place to process migrants that establishes the number and categories of immigrants it will accept annually. The American system is not perfect but it has been an orderly way to evaluate and vet people wanting to relocate to the United States.

The migrants on our southern border do not fit into our normal system for the orderly processing of applicants. The world is no longer orderly, if it ever was, and extreme events such as drought, famine, civil war, and despotic governments, death squads and terrorism are driving populations from their homes in search of safer places to live. These extremes underlie the sudden and desperate relocation of huge numbers of people. The “system” was never intended to address or manage large disorderly populations like the ones we’re seeing today. These groups, whether they are Syrians seeking refuge in Germany or Hondurans fleeing drug violence for a safe haven in America, do not have time to wait the eleven years it takes to go through the systematic visa vetting process. They are terrified, and their plight is urgent.

All of these “extra” immigrant populations are “undocumented,” meaning they do not have the required documents to immigrate legally. Most are hoping to be granted asylum status and be admitted on the basis of threats to their welfare. So, how do we approach a solution to this extraordinary situation?

Historian Jon Meacham’s most recent book, The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels asks us to consider how we got into this polarized, gridlocked political stalemate and appeals to “our better angels” to lead us out of it. Where is our compassion? What kind of government tells migrants the only way to asylum is through an official port of entry and then blocks access to that crossing? What perversion leads this same government, our government, to limit asylum interviews to a handful each day while thousands are told they have to wait their turn. Where is the “can do” spirit that can put a man on the moon but can’t process asylum applications for people who have walked more than 1000 miles seeking safety? What kind of a president sends an armed military to an international border as a pre-election stunt when border law officers are adequate for enforcement? What kind of government uses tear gas against women and children whose only sin is frustration with a broken system only ask for a safe place to live.

According to best estimates, there are about 11 million undocumented immigrants living in America. They mow our lawns, make our beds, wash our dishes, and clean our houses. That’s 3.66% of the US population. Estimates are that 3.6 million of the 11 million are “DREAMers,” children brought to the US by their parents and given a special status by President Obama. Because Congress hasn’t solved the problem there are now roughly 4000 migrants at or near the US-Mexico border. On Sunday, ICE closed the border and used tear gas to push the crowd on the opposite side of the border back.

Referring to In the Heights, Braden Abraham, Artistic Director of the Seattle Rep wrote

“I’m struck by how this (2008) groundbreaking work resonates differently now and more broadly than ever. A lot has happened over the last decade, from the Great Financial Crisis, to Lin-Manuel transforming musical theater with is monumental Hamilton, to the emergence of immigration as the toxic centerpiece of our politics. As incendiary as this is, the first may be the better clue to In the Heights increased relevance. The questions Lin-Manuel’s Upper Manhattan Latinx community wrestles with—what it means to have roots, a community, or a home; whether to stay in a pace or leave or if one even has a choice in the face of economic inequality and gentrification; whether the American Dream can still be achieved—are increasingly being asked by people and communities, both immigrant and no-immigrant, throughout our country.

I continue to believe that the arts can reach us and teach us things we need to know about ourselves, each other, and the world. It’s unrealistic to think that Donald Trump will be changed by something as energetic and moving as In the Heights, but it can remind us of the real America and give voice to those of us who feel we have lost ours in the last two years.