Emma’s American future
This is part of a weekly series of interviews by Debilyn Molineaux, project director forAmericanFuture.US. This project's mission is to help everyday Americans to imagine a better future for themselves, and together we’ll write the next chapter of the United States of America.
Emma Petty Addams and I have been colleagues for several years, mutually supporting one another’s work. We may appear similar, but do have some distinct differences in our families and faith communities. This conversation allowed us to go deeper, offer grace and see each other more fully. Plus, Emma is the mother of Johnny Addams, who also participated in this project. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Debilyn Molineaux: We are going to time travel today – within your current life. How far would you like to imagine together? We recommend somewhere between two and 20 years. What sounds right for you?
Emma Petty Adams: Fifteen to 20 years.
DM: Let’s take a few deep breaths as the time machine takes us to this imagined future. I would like you to observe yourself there and respond to these questions. Where are you in 15 to 20 years?
EPA: I actually have no idea. We could be anywhere, probably not here in Omaha. Most likely on the West Coast or maybe the East Coast. Or maybe overseas. I don’t have a clear picture of that.
DM: OK, well, maybe describe the city or town where you are. What’s the community like?
EPA: It is diverse. We’ve chosen a place to live where we can interact with people regularly and ongoingly in the neighborhood and in the church who aren’t all the same. Economically diverse, racially diverse, it’s people of different beliefs and religions and such. We’ve chosen to be part of a thriving and interesting community where we can learn from those around us.
DM: I’m feeling a place that is very cosmopolitan, in the old-fashioned sense of the word?
EPA: We’ll end up somewhere that we’ll be impacted by it, and have an impact on the community. We want a place where we can be enriched every day and there is an exchange as we contribute. Likely more urban.
DM: What will you be most proud of?
EPA: Probably grandchildren! (laughter) I’m feeling gratitude, not sure if it’s pride, that I’ve had the opportunity to raise good men. I’m expecting there to be bumps in the road, for the rest of our lives, because that’s life. As I watch them grow and age, I’m thrilled to see the way they are approaching life. I feel a lot of pride in the sacrifices that I made for a long time, to devote my time and energy to raise my sons. And I’m feeling gratitude and pride in my relationship with my husband. We partnered together, we both made sacrifices. We both made decisions, worked through friction and deepened our friendship and relationship.
DM: How will you spend your day?
EPA: I hope by then I know what I want to do next. The stewardship I’ve been carrying has been passed along to someone else. I might have decided to go into grad school, or study music. Or public service. It’s very open right now. The theme is that I’m doing something with my day, my time and my talent, that I am committed to impact the greatest number of people in the deepest way that I can. So I’m not positive if it’s a return to teaching music, or spending time in a musical community. It could be serving in my church, and doing community-based volunteering or running something. Or public service. The theme is that I’m helping. At this time in my life, I’ll have a lot of flexibility. I’d like to build a life where I have something of a routine, but have the space to respond to others as they need it.
DM: To put my words on this, what I hear is that you have a practice of “beingness” so you are available for whoever needs you in the moment and you can make a large impact from those contributions.
EPA: Yes, I need to have awareness of the needs and space to respond to them. My kids are grown, so my time is integrated between family, extended family and my community work. I see personal and professional as one, it’s just my life. I get up each day and I have things to do, responsibilities and an element of going where I’m needed. It’s an opportunity to serve my family or the community.
DM: How will you feel, most of the time?
EPA: Very busy and very fulfilled. I feel like I am spending time on things that are most important. And I feel lucky and blessed that I have the opportunity to make those choices. I can make professional decisions on what is meaningful and needed, not merely on what is financially required. I’m living in such a way that I don’t need a ton of money to meet my family’s needs. It’s a means to do the other things, not the center of it. The material things are not as important as the relationships.
DM: There’s a thread I want to pull on here about your community. You have a sense of financial ease in your future.
EPA: At this point, my children are grown and through college. We’ve raised them, we don’t need a big house to live in. Maybe somewhere to go on vacation together. We’ve downsized and made our lives more compact. This allows us to make decisions on how we spend our time and where we live, not based on making a ton of money. We have enough for our needs. If we have more, we can give it away, help children. Money is not the center. It’s a luxury and a privilege to not have money at the center, because it means you have enough and don’t have to worry about where it comes from.
DM: What will be your priority values or principles?
EPA: The older I get, the less I care about pleasing anyone and the more I care about being authentic. Authenticity means this is what I have to give, and I give it in service to the community. Comfort with me is not the concern, care is the concern. I really hope that I deepen my skills in peacebuilding. I like to be taken care of so I’m in a position to be in spaces where there is conflict and contribute to the healing and reconciliation. The reality of choosing to live in a place where there is diversity, conflict will happen. I’m choosing to be part of healing relationships. And I’ll continue to learn and stretch, not hiding from uncomfortable things. I want my eyes open. If I have stability in my life, I don’t want to float into a life of ease, cut off from the full reality. I want to be at ease with what is uncomfortable, to be growing.
DM: Because I know you, I also know that you want to spread that ease with being uncomfortable, in a sense of family and connection, into the world. And you are seeing that path for that through healing and reconciliation of diverse people, in all their various forms of diversity when they rub up against each other like sandpaper.
EPA: Yes. I also feel a calling to live amongst diverse people. There is more ease with someone who keeps holding up the example and asking, “how could we be better?” or “what we have is great” or “wow, why don’t these people have what we have?” I know it’s not about if they are good people or not. It’s about circumstances beyond their control. And if I’m not here to share what I have, I can’t see a life of meaning that doesn’t involve recognition of blessings and trying to make things better for others.
DM: There’s an element in what you are saying, you might call this a principle or value of sharing grace with others?
EPA: Yeah, I think that is part of peacemaking and reconciliation. I want, as best as I possibly can, with each person I’m interacting with, to give them the maximum amount of grace. I’m assuming they have reasons for doing what they are doing, what they are saying and that they are doing their best. And I’m not judging them. I’m interacting with them in a way that makes them feel better about themselves, not smaller. They actually feel like I can see their potential. I see the goodness in them.
DM: Having experienced that from you recently, I can say you are succeeding. (laughter) Are there any other principles or values you are observing in your preferred future?
EPA: A lot of flexibility and openness. Once we become too rigid about how we think things are gonna work out, it doesn't work. I need to have a plan, and then be open to moving things around.
DM: Then there’s that part about giving people grace, because they mess up all your plans! (laughing more!)
EPA: Yeah, flexibility helps. I would also add that what runs through all of this is my faith. Faith weaves through each of these principles and drives it, a theological understanding of why we’re on this earth and the vision, that I call the Zion, almost like a beloved community. That is what we are working towards. My faith teaches me we have a loving God, and we are here on this earth, and we rub up against each other, and it’s needful, to have friction. We’re supposed to work it out. That’s our job.
DM: What does the community that supports your future need to include?
EPA: I know that I’ve said it will be diverse. I have to have the humility to accept the help I need from those around me, and I have to contribute. So there will be a reciprocal balance. My experience is that wherever we live, we can create community. There is an ethos of exchange or I’m building a sense of shared grace into the community.
DM: Is there anything you can do today or in the near future to influence or co-create the community that will support you in 2038 or so?
EPA: I’m looking ahead to the next year and I’m feeling pulled to do more close to home. In 2023, I have a lot of national and state level work. It’s clear to me that if I’m not feeding and nourishing a personal practice in my local community, I’m not as effective at the national level. Especially as we work with refugee or immigrant communities. Also in my faith community, heading into the 2024 election year, I could create opportunities for us to love each other through it.
I have an invitation for you to spend five minutes a day visioning this future for yourself. Feel the awe and wonder that you’ve done it – feel your future feelings deeply. What neuroscience has proven is that we cannot help but start to co-create the future we want this way. All for five minutes a day. It feels like magic, but it’s actually neuroscience!
- Tim’s American future ›
- Johnny’s American future ›
- Myra Jackson's American future ›
- American Future: Preparing to meet you ›