My mother called shortly before the third and final presidential debate the other night. She had a lilt in her voice that told me she hadn’t likely been watching the Dow plummet again on CNN.

“What are you up to?” I asked.

“I just got back from tutoring.” She said, almost breathless.

“Palling around with terrorists again, huh Mom?” It took her a moment and then she laughed at the absurdity.

My mother, her sister and several other people have just about adopted an Iraqi family in Peoria, Illinois. That an Iraqi family has a safe haven in this small city in the heartland makes me feel like all is not so bad with the world.

This small army of do-gooders, with perhaps collective American guilt, have heaped on this family much assistance. A house to live in, help finding the father a job, donated clothing and household items and tutoring for the four children. When you see the insanity going on around the world, what we’ve done to Iraq, the current election negativity, it’s easy to feel helpless and ask yourself “what’s the point of it all?” I wouldn’t be surprised if helping this family does as much for the family as it does for my mother and her friends.

Recently, my mother told me about a shopping excursion to buy Noor, the 17-year old daughter, long skirts as part of her hajib. This was no easy task apparently. It must be hard to keep the faith what with changing hemlines. They didn’t have much luck that day. But later, my mother was on a solo shopping trip, remembered Noor’s size and hit the jackpot. I don’t doubt it. My mother taught us the art of dressing well on a budget. I’m glad she can transfer those skills to another set of kids, in addition to instruction on dangling participles and puzzling through math equations.

While my mother was there tutoring the other night, the Iraqi mother brought out a spread of wonderful food. Despite a dining room table, a cloth was spread on the floor and they all sat down to eat. The family insisted that my mother and her friend Norma stay. Plates of fried fish, couscous, lots of fresh vegetables graced the floor. This family of six, with uncertainty about their living situation and the father’s job, eats very well, my mother said. It didn’t surprise me. Many cultures have an enviable connection to food that we don’t have here in the U.S.

I think about this natural exchange of kindness and generosity in the heartland, of seemingly disparate lives coming together, mutually benefiting. And yet, two states over in the heartland of Ohio, there was another kind of coming together. Attendees at a Palin rally spoke of fearing that “blacks would take over America,” that “Obama hated whites,” that “a Negra was running for President,” that “Obama was related to a terrorist.”

As good a thing it is to exercise your duty and right to vote, election season is a mixed blessing. It is during this time that ugliness rears its head and you see a side of people you could have lived without knowing.

Despite our need for a change in attitude and direction in this country, no one can take away one’s spirit or desire to have an impact on their immediate world. Even if a breath of fresh air enters the White House, there’s been a collective tuning out our leaders, including the promising ones. Perhaps this leaves us with more freedom to do things we have real power to do.

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