It was about 5:30 in the morning on July 4 when the crack of thunder sat me up in my sleeping bag. I left the rest of my family in the tent and went outside to check the weather. The thunderstorms were forecasted to start arriving around 9 a.m. But as I stepped onto the beach, a wall of black clouds, a bolt of lightning, and ensuing thunder showed the storm was only a few miles away.
We had kayaked to a little hammock island to camp the previous afternoon. I was prepared to break camp and be on the water by 7 a.m. to take advantage of the slack tide. Now, the storm was too close to make a break for it. I went back to inform my wife, set up the rain fly, and prepared to hunker down. The radar suggested we'd be taking on thunderstorms for at least a couple of hours. I went back to the water to get another look at the storm and saw a small boat coming up the creek. I waved my arms, but they did not see me. I was about to give up when the boat turned and came to shore.
In the boat were two men out checking their crab pots. Their rural accents were so thick I could barely understand them. But as I asked for help, I was able to gather they were willing to drive us back to the boat landing. Quickly, I got my wife, scooped up the kids, and left almost all of our camping gear on the island.
"The forecast said the storms wouldn't be here until later this morning," I said, embarrassed by my vulnerability.
"Storm's here now," the man replied.
From the safety of the car, I considered the odds of being on the beach during the 15-second time when the boat appeared. It was a blessing.
Later that day, I made my way back to the boat landing. I had the task of getting back to the island, breaking a very soggy camp, and getting two tandem kayaks with all of our gear back to dry land by myself. I decided to depend on the kindness of strangers — to wallow in my vulnerability.
I found a family that was about to put their boat into the water. They happened to be going to the island and offered me a ride. Upon arrival, there were already a couple of other boats there as I spent about an hour packing up wet gear and a four-person tent with a couple of inches of water inside. A few people who were nearby celebrating Independence Day struck up conversations with me as the mystery of the abandoned campsite was solved. I loaded up the kayaks, tied them together, and decided to enjoy one of the libations we left behind as a reward for my hard work.
I sat on the beach and watched a boat pull a kid on skis when an older man approached. He was white and wearing an American flag hat. Many folks can't understand the anxiety a dark-skinned fellow like myself experiences in rural America. I imagined him as a staunch conservative who only exchanged his MAGA hat for the American Flag because of the holiday. I gave him my suspicious attention.
"You must be hungry," the man said. "I've been watching you and you haven't had anything to eat. Come on over and get a couple of hot dogs."
I wasn't hungry, but I couldn't deny his kindness. I followed him to his little grill and listened as he told me how much the area had changed over his lifetime. I thanked him for the food and stories before pulling my kayaks into the water. A heavily tattooed woman helped keep the "gear kayak" from tipping over as I struggled to move them. As I paddled away, the patriarch of another family I met hollered at me from his boat.
"Ali! Want me to pull you?"
The current had become friendly and the wind wasn't fighting me. I waved him off and thanked him.
As I paddled back, I was humbled by the hospitality. I wondered how those folks might present themselves on Facebook, imagining the hot dog man posting pro-Trump memes. But like the Grinch on Christmas, there was little spark of hope in my heart as I considered the idea that hate and judgment that comes so easily from the safety of a computer screen is just misguided boredom. Face to face, most people don't care that I'm Persian and Latino. They would agree kids don't belong in cages. Most people would probably even concede that not all Muslims are terrorists. It's herd mentality.
We are the subjects of greedy political agendas that use our differences to divide us, to make us fight. We're better than the expression of our manipulation, though. Let us take the power back by graciously and physically interacting with the whole of humanity instead of surrounding ourselves with digital mobs who stoke our misguided hate. In this way, our minds will be freed, the self-serving political agendas become impotent, and we put ourselves in the position to allow expressions of love through freely offered acts of dependence. At least that's my silly revelation. Happy Dependence Day.