The presidential election exposed deep divides in Americans. Columnist Kate Riley called up a cousin, a conservative, who reached outside his bubble.

Share story

The timing is particularly fitting, especially if you are the type wh0 likes family confrontations. The most bruising presidential election in modern history lifted the curtain on the nation’s deep family rift — just in time for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The surprise wasn’t that the division existed but that it was so deep. Another surprise for many of us was how so many good people, among our friends and family, could look past a candidate’s flaws, transgressions and divisive rhetoric and actually vote for him — or, yes, her. Really, you can fill in the candidate’s name either way.

Our bubbles popped. The pollsters got it wrong; the chattering commentators got it wrong; the columnists I selected for these pages, even the conservatives, railed against Trump and got it wrong. Friends and family members unfriended each other on Facebook and trash-talked each other on Twitter.

We were all yelling over most of the summer and fall, when what we should have been doing was talking — and listening.

That got me thinking about my cousin Bob Dunn, who is quite different from me politically. I remember him as a towheaded elementary schooler squealing with the rest of us cousins as we bounced and rolled down Grandpa and Grandma’s precipitous hill in the precipitously hilly Lead, S.D., where my mother and his father grew up — as did Bob and his siblings. Now, he’s a Ph.D. toxicologist at a major biopharmaceutical company in Southern California. He also is a religious, gun-owning, pickup-driving conservative.

We reconnected on Facebook a few years ago. In 2012, I proudly posted about The Seattle Times editorial board’s “I do” campaign to support Referendum 74 affirming same-sex marriage. My friends in my Seattle area and journalism bubbles all cheered.

And then there was Bob’s post, raining on my parade. “I don’t. In support of the (Roman Catholic) Diocese of Seattle! Too bad I can’t vote. …”

Hmmmph. We never talked directly about that and our interactions returned to family matters, liking news of each other’s kids, him trash-talking the Seahawks and me his Broncos.

When I saw that his son was seriously injured in a car accident, I broke out my only big gun — our grandmother Isabel’s rosary — to pray for his recovery. Inspired by posts about my son’s challenges with disabilities, Bob welded him a steel lock box and made a picture book to explain how he made it. The gift is treasured.

Since the election, I’ve been thinking about how my bubbles have failed me. I called Bob to ask about a moving effort he made to reach outside his own bubble earlier this year.

The man who didn’t like my post supporting same-sex marriage was deeply affected by the June 12 mass murder at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. The horror struck close, especially after he and his wife almost lost their own son a few months earlier.

“Here are 49 people who are no longer here,” Bob said. “The ripple effect of those lost … There’s five, 10, 30, there’s 50 and you do the math and it’s exponential.”

He was moved to do something and thought, “Well I could do a lap around the beads.”

So, it started. Every day for 49 days, Bob selected a name from the alphabetical list of the lost — from Stanley Almodovai III to Jerald Arthur Wright — and prayed the rosary for them, usually during his commute. He wrote the names on paper, laid his rosary nearby and posted a photo on Facebook.

On a business trip, he prayed the rosary on the shores of the Atlantic; some people were prayed for on a Pacific beach, not far from his home; at least one was prayed for at Chicago O’Hare airport.

I began to watch for the pictures on my feed — to reflect in a small way on Bob’s devotional to these strangers and the friends and family who still grieve. On the 50th day, he prayed again for all of them for good measure. What did Bob draw from it?

“It makes me look differently at every person I see,” he said. “Growing up in South Dakota, the palette wasn’t very diverse. Most people were white. And you were either Catholic or Methodist.

“ … As you see the diversity, you see that individual bringing something special to the planet. Behind that is someone who has parents who love them and children who love them.”

Bob reached outside his bubble in a way that was meaningful for him, a devout Catholic. “This was about being human.”

What if we all tried to do that in ways that are meaningful for us?

From South Dakota to Southern California, from Washington state to Washington, D.C., if more people could just reach out, not necessarily to agree, but to seek to understand and show respect, wouldn’t we all be better off?