We were at the back of the line, waiting our turn to take a family photo in one of Cleveland’s parks. The city’s name is spelled out in a display that overlooks the lakefront and downtown. It’s perfectly placed to make a postcard-worthy keepsake.
Most of the fun came from watching each family take its turn and seeing everyone interact. There were Clevelanders and out-of-towners, people of different ethnic backgrounds, total strangers waiting patiently for their turn to do something fun.
First, they took turns doing something kind. A family would get ready to pose, and the family behind them would offer to snap the photo for them so everyone could be included. A total stranger would show another total stranger how to focus their camera phone and then hand it over.
Smile. Snap. Snap. Snap. Wait! One more just in case! Smile and snap while the kind stranger takes one final shot.
And then, it was the next family’s turn to share in the group photo project. Total strangers took each other’s photos, ones that would be posted on social media and maybe framed and hung on the wall back home next to the graduation and wedding and travel photos.
How utterly cool is that?
When my family was done posing and saying cheese, I asked the family behind us if they’d like me to do the honors. A woman who appeared to be the mother didn’t respond. It was as if she didn’t understand what I’d just said.
Turns out, she didn’t.
The family was Hispanic. She spoke very broken English. After a moment, she recognized what was going on, smiled and very politely said no thank you. As her family got ready to pose, she recognized how the stranger-turned-friendly-photographer thing worked, and she allowed the family behind them to take their picture.
Smile. Snap, snap, snap. Wait, one more! Snap. And then they did the same.
People speaking different languages figured out a common language. Different worlds, same world. Different families, one family.
Again, how utterly cool is that?
The photo session came at the end of a tough week for all of us. More black people killed by police. Police officers gunned down by a man filled with hatred. And on the other side of the world, countless people getting blown up by others filled with hatred.
There are times when hatred seems to overwhelm us. Darkness seeps inside of us for a while. We’re tempted to think that the whole world is a dark place.
But it’s not. It’s always followed by a sunny, breezy, hopeful day of smiling photos.
The truth is, there’s far more love and life in the world than there is hatred and death. Kindness is our human default setting – for most of us, anyway. If we pay attention, we see countless acts of kindness all around us every day.
#LoveWins isn’t just a slogan. It’s us. We doubt, we struggle, we reach the end of our rope. And then we pull back and we let love do its healing, resetting thing. We find a place deep inside of us – a familiar place where humanity and divinity intersect – and we start again.
Snap. Wait, one more. Smile again!
Honestly, given how many of us there are and how much we endure each day, it’s a wonder that there’s not more ugliness in the world. And yes, it’s true that there are some people who, for whatever reason, seem to be missing the divine DNA of kindness. Maybe they’ve been hurt so deeply that it’s scarred over. Maybe they’ve simply made the choice to hate because it’s less challenging than love.
Here’s what we know: Most people strive to get along. We recognize that we’re all the same in the ways that matter. We care about each other. We speak the same language even when we don’t know the same words.
And we consider it a wonderful thing to hold a stranger’s phone in our hands and do something for them that they will cherish. Something that reminds us of what we’re all about.
With each touch of the screen, we take our collective family portrait. Snap! Wait, one more!
OK, here’s your phone back. Oh, you’re most definitely welcome. After all, someone else just did the same for me. And the picture is perfect.
In every way.