One of the greatest things about our country is its ethnic and cultural diversity. Sharing experiences and ideas with people from different backgrounds expands our minds and, as Karen Howard shares in our new book about celebrating the spirit of America, can also open our hearts. In her beautiful love story "A Ship in the Harbor," Karen writes:
I find love notes scrawled on scraps of paper hidden around the house -- under a desk lamp, behind a photo, slipped in a book, in drawers. They're always dated, and he never lets on that there's still one to be found. I'm as gleeful as a kid running through sprinklers whenever I find one, and this treasure hunt has been going on for more than 15 years.
I always hoped that my Prince Charming would be tall, dark and handsome, but I never expected him to be black. I'm white, raised in Orange County, California, in the 1950s and 1960s. I had a happy childhood and youth, but by no stretch of the imagination could it be called culturally diverse. I had white neighbors, white friends, white teachers, and I listened to white music, mostly The Beach Boys, while I whiled away summer days with my friends on the white sands of local beaches. My life was a blend of "Father Knows Best" and "Gidget," insulated from the social and civil injustices that were prevalent beyond my world.
My college years were an explosion of new experiences, socially, intellectually and politically, and yet, for the most part, my social circle remained white. Then I moved to Los Angeles. Languages exotic to my ears, people who looked nothing like me and mouthwatering aromas of Thai, Korean, Chinese and soul food stimulated my senses.
I settled in an ethnically diverse neighborhood. Years passed. My neighbors Bill and Annie invited me to their Super Bowl party. Bill had told me about a friend of his, Richard, who he wanted me to meet. I agreed to come by. As Bill greeted me on the day of the party, I scanned the room wondering which of his friends was Richard when a tall, dark, handsome man with warm brown eyes, a wide grin and a shaved head stepped forward, extended his hand and grasped mine firmly in his. He said, "Hello, I'm Richard." To borrow a line from the film "Jerry Maguire" ... he had me at hello.
He was a black man raised in Jackson, Mississippi, and I was a white woman raised in Orange County. What could we possibly have in common? The card he sent me a few days later set the tone for the months and years to follow. On the front was a ship in a harbor with the words "A ship in the harbor is safe ... but that's not what ships were made for." Indeed, over the past 15 years we've ventured into new waters and explored uncharted lagoons. We've weathered rough seas. It's taken courage, mutual respect, open hearts and an abundance of love and laughter, and I'm thankful every day that we were both willing to take the risk.
Last month Richard surprised me with a birthday party. It was a casual backyard gathering, a barbecue reminiscent of my childhood, yet endearingly different. My heart swelled with love as my teary eyes beheld my dearest friends. They were black. They were white. They were gay. They were Christian. They were Buddhist. They came in their Mercedes. They took a bus. They were the faces of the people I love most, especially the man with the strong handshake, the wide grin, the shaved head and the hidden love notes.