For the past couple of weeks, I have been waking up early in the morning to make my rounds in DC and connect with as many National Guard reservists deployed in our nation’s capital. This routine of mine gained even more of an impetus when Twitter and Facebook banned me within a few days of each other, both citing the same content I posted for violating their Orwellian “community standards”. I learned a long time ago to make merengue pie when life gives you lemons; instead of dwelling in grievance mode, I decided to unplug and hit the road.
What I have learned during this forced hiatus from social media—limited as it was for I circumvented their suspension by using my secondary accounts—is something I already knew a long time ago. Where social media aborts connections while it tethers us through wires, face-to-face encounters lead to profound discoveries and deep kinships. A hundred retweets and a thousand likes yet they all fall by the wayside compared to friendships that are formed when two strangers bump into each other and get to know one another soul to soul.
This is precisely what occurred this morning as I ran into an Iraq War veteran by the name of Captain KJ in the Giant parking lot off Little River Turnpike in Alexandria, Virginia. Since I started my morning jaunts on January 6th, ironically enough the same day as the US Capitol “insurrection”, I’ve been going to the Starbucks (I know I know I am ashamed to admit this) off Leesburg Pike, this morning I decided to head to the Starbucks right by my house inside Giant. I ran into a Pakistani barista by the name of Ayesha, as she made my coffee, I made her laugh as I told her about the song by Another Bad Creation titled “Iesha”.
After I got my coffee, I crisscrossed the aisles and handed card after card that had the information for the #WildcatStrikeUSA2021 on it. For the most part, the conversations these sessions spurned might as well have been tweets or Facebook chats; I handed them the cards, occasionally explained what the campaign was about and then moved on to the next target. I gave out 30 cards in the span of 20 minutes and then decided to go for my morning walk.
As I was about to enter my car, I looked up and saw a license plate that had military acronyms on it. I placed my coffee on the hood of my car and headed over to hand the person inside the parked car another card that I had in my back pocket that I’ve been giving out only to reservists in DC and Pentagon Force Protection officers patrolling the parameters of the Pentagon. I approached and the person in the driver’s seat rolled down the window; for some reason I was expecting a “white” man but to my surprise it was a “black” woman who greeted me with a welcoming smile. In the age where everyone suspects everyone else, I was almost suspicious of her cheery demeanor she was displaying to a stranger she never met.
I got over my initial misgivings and approached her window to give her the card. Before I extended the offer, I asked her if she was a veteran. She confirmed that she was and told me that she served in Iraq. I quickly gave her the card and told her what it was about; I explained to her what Memo Delta Echo Foxtrot Yankee is about and also noted that there was a poem I wrote dedicated to veterans at the bottom of the article (which can also be found at the bottom of this article). She gladly took the card and thanked me; but instead of cutting the conversation short, we kept chatting with one another.
One minute led to five, next thing you know we spent close to 20 minutes in the parking lot of Giant having conversations even though we did not know each other’s names. I told her at some point that I too could have been in the military and that I had a scholarship offer in 1992 to attend West Point. I shared my regret to someone I never met about the sorrows that haunt me to this day because I disappointed my father by skipping 40 days my senior year in high school and pissing away my opportunity to become a Cadet. At that moment, she told me that she was a graduate of West Point and that she retired as a Captain from the Army in 2012.
These are the types of sincere connections and genuine exchanges that in person encounters forge that are not possible through the internet. It is futile to attempt authentic discussions limited by Twitter’s 280 characters and Facebook’s intrusive ads. Whereas social media conditions us to move on to the next post, real-life encounters ground us and do not limit our chats. We live in an age where people can have 5,000 friends and ten thousand followers only to be lonely and depressed. The more we chase quantity of strangers, the less we have quality of companionships.
We turn ourselves into islands while swimming in the virtual seas of validation and acceptance from people we will never meet in reality.
We keep depending on social media to be a tool for justice when it’s really a weapon of mass-distractions. If we are to advance the causes of equality and fight iniquities, we must do so by logging off our laptops and phones and shake hands with our fellow citizens. I am not preaching to you, I am writing this as much to the writer as I am to the reader. Through it all, I am thankful for every person I met over the past three weeks; especially reservists and veterans I’ve had the honor to salute in my heart as I gave them fist bumps.
American Legion Post 170 in Rochelle Park, NJ, will host a stand down for #homeless & at-risk #veterans from 12-3pm Jan. 23. Get help with VA benefits & claims, housing, & other services. Donated clothing available for those in need. https://t.co/s3KunZFQ1m #BestOfTheWeek
— The American Legion (@AmericanLegion) January 16, 2021
The poem below is one that I wrote while I was homeless in South Carolina and in Colorado four years ago. It’s dedicated to military personnel around the world and inspired by homeless veterans whom I called neighbors and friends while I was living in shelters. I am not going to lie, to this day I have survivor’s guilt that I made it out of the hole of indigence and that God restored everything I lost while there are millions who languish in silence and have been rendered invisible. Each time I read this poem to active duty soldiers, leathernecks, squids, zoomies and veterans, I cry internally or sob outwardly. May God restore all who are hurting and heal all who are broken; may we connect soul to soul and mend this world through love and find renewal:: #Soul2Soul Click To Tweet
“I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.” ~ Psalm 4:8
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