Mind the Gap by Jamie Kirkpatrick


When I lived in Scotland, I travelled a lot by train. At every station stop, a disembodied but very polite (usually female) voice would remind passengers to “mind the gap” when exiting the train. That the gap only required a very small step to mind was almost irrelevant; what mattered more was the need to be mindful of any gap at any time. Since then, I have taken the railroad’s existential warning to heart and carry it with me these many years later. I mind my gaps, or at least try to.

There are gaps everywhere these days, some small, some quite wide, like the dangerous divide in our current political culture. It’s no longer just a gap; it’s a yawning chasm, possibly too wide for any meaningful minding. No matter how much I wish it weren’t so, this gap isn’t just color-coded red and blue anymore. We’re in a full-blown cultural war with no end in sight. Sad!

And what’s worse is that the current gap seems to get wider by the hour. Mr. Trump’s approval ratings may be plunging to all-time lows, but his die-hard support seems to be hardening just as fast. News is no longer news; it’s either real or fake depending on the eye of the beholder. Absent any objective perspective or common ground, the fabric of our society continues to stretch and fray until one can almost hear the ties that used to bind us together snapping apart like exploding steel cables.

This is hardly news—real or fake—to anyone but I have yet to hear or read any reasonable solution to the current predicament we’re in. Impeaching and convicting a sitting president is a long-shot by any standard, let alone when the President and the Congress are of the same political stripe. Invoking the 25th Amendment is an even longer and riskier shot. Resignation? A highly remote possibility in this case and an act that would almost certainly create more of a festering wound than a healing solution. Declaring all-out war on the political establishment is only going to result in unimaginable collateral damage to all our democratic institutions.

The moral giants of my lifetime—Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu—believed in and lived lives defined by non-violence and truth and reconciliation, but those defining principles seem increasingly far-off in our collective rear-view mirror and (more’s the pity!) we’re heading away from them at breakneck speed. But believe it or not, reconciliation—the restoration of friendly relations or the act of making one belief or view compatible with another—begins with nothing more than the mutual good will of the parties involved. Maybe that’s no longer possible, you say; maybe we’ve passed the point of no-return; maybe all the hatred, misogyny, xenophobia, racism, and dread have risen to such a crescendo that no amount of good will on either side can prevent us from stumbling into the cataclysm that lies in the thin, dark space between the train and the platform.

Fortunately, I have more faith in us that that. Education, civil discourse, mindful listening, and compromise would be steps in the right direction. You see, we’re all on the same train, eventually going to the same station; if we’re all going to arrive safely, it’s high-time to begin minding the gap.

I’ll be right back.


Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was released in May and is already in its second printing. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.



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