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Pool: Postcard from the edge of the year

By Frank Pool
Jan. 2, 2018 at 12:18 a.m.

A few days after Christmas, I got a call from a friend inviting me to go for a walk with him. He is a tall, lean fellow who is a better runner than I ever was.

We agreed to meet on the hike-and-bike trail around Ladybird Lake that is one of the glories of Texas' capital.

When I had a health crisis a few years ago, he was faithful in calling and visiting. Any time I mention him, my wife says, "He's a good guy."

On our hikes, we talk about family and work, politics and the things we've read. On this gray day, we talked about sociologists such as Robert Putnam, Charles Murray and Francis Fukuyama, all of whom have documented the fraying of our social connections.

We took a break to see the new Austin Public Library. It's a magnificent place right across from the trail. Many windows look out over the lake and into the rapidly growing high-rises of the downtown that has mushroomed in the past decade.

The library is built to serve as a social gathering place, a place to nourish connections. A large balcony on the top floor encompasses a garden of native plants.

The furniture everywhere is modern and colorful. The scene reminds me of what as a child I thought the future would look like.

This library makes me proud. When I was young, I loved the Nicholson Library in Longview. I loved the Austin library at first sight.

I look forward to many more long walks and long afternoons there in retirement.

That evening, I was at a nearby Mexican restaurant that has become a favorite. Because my wife was a thousand miles away tending to her widowed mother, I was alone. Although there was food in the refrigerator, I wanted to be around people.

Not far away, several tables had been pushed together, and a group of six young men was dining together. They looked as though they might be college seniors, and their conversation was punctuated by a lot of smiling.

I couldn't hear their words, but I took note of their appearance. Three of the guys were white, descended from Western or Central Europe. One hailed back to East Asia, and another looked to be from South Asia. Another was extremely black, suggesting perhaps recent immigration from Africa.

They were obviously friends. My mind flashed back to my old college pals, some of whom are still friends 40 years later. I thought it possible that some of these fellows might still be in touch in half a century, and I smiled benignly at the idea.

In the booth next to me were two Hispanic men. One was holding forth in a long monologue about God and country as the other listened. I could hear him clearly when the mariachi band was not playing.

He began talking about Alexis de Tocqueville's "Democracy in America." Then he pulled out his phone and began reading quotes from the book, admonitions about our future written in 1831 by a prescient visitor from France. He found these warnings to be compelling advice about our national destiny.

People are as good as they ever were. Polarization and angry cross-talk are not the whole story. I felt friendship and earnestness, affection and good humor vibrating in that room.

Suddenly, at the end of a dispiriting year, I felt something stir inside of me, a dancing sprite of hope and joy.

And I felt a rush of love for my country. This is my postcard from the edge of the year.

— Frank Thomas Pool is a writer and a retired English teacher in Austin. He grew up on Maple Street in Longview and graduated from Longview High School.



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