One afternoon about three weeks ago I received a call from Bob, the master carpenter who helped to build our house fourteen years ago and who has since retired. A sweet, shy man in recovery from a serious bout with cancer, Bob wanted to show his support for the people of Ukraine. He had made about ten 12 x 12 wooden placards and painted them blue and yellow to look like the Ukrainian flag and was looking for places to put them up. I offered the big post at the head of our driveway just beneath our street numbers and he came by with his electric drill and attached the lovely homemade placard. It had no words, just color. "It's a little something I can do," Bob said in a soft voice. "It makes me feel like I'm lighting a candle against the darkness."
Every time I pulled into our driveway I have been cheered by the blue and yellow flag placard. I saw some other Ukrainian support flags prominently placed in our village, which also has a Black Lives Matter sign and until recently a Trump/Pence campaign sign. Yesterday, coming home from a trip to Santa Fe, I pulled in and saw that my flag placard had been vandalized. Someone had spray painted a big X in blue paint across it. At first I was sad, then angry and finally bewildered. Who would so such and thing and why? Was there anything I could do about it?
Our driveway is long and we cannot see the post and sign from our house. Anyone driving on the state road can pull into our driveway, do their mischief and travel on, not likely to be caught. Over the years our candidate support signs have routinely been stolen and replaced several times during every election cycle. But this felt different. This was not only a violation of my property and free speech rights in a partisan attempt to "own" me. This felt like an attempt to silence the moral voice of compassion. It felt like a bitter insult to the effort made by Bob, who made the sign. This felt like someone saying, "the suffering of the people of Ukraine does not matter. Here, I will X it out." I was mindful that I couldn't just let this kind of act cow me.
First, we called the Sheriff of Rio Arriba County and said we wanted to file a complaint. The Sheriff's Deputy was kind and sympathetic but with a huge rural county to cover, short staff and no evidence pointing to who might have done this, it is unlikely anything will come from our complaint. Then, I put messages on message boards, both digital and actual, with a picture of the vandalized flag and asked people in town to be on the lookout and protect their signs if they can. Now I am writing this post to alert all my readers that this kind of ignorance is surging and we must stand up to it. We must be willing to make our voices heard over the attempts to silence us. We don't have to say a word to people who hate us for our views, that is probably a dangerous waste of time. But we cannot slink away into inaction and allow hatred to triumph. Finally, I purchased paints and repainted my little sign so it can shine its light into the darkness a little longer.
While I know that the struggle between ignorance and wisdom, hatred and love and greed and benevolence will continue forever, I am bewildered by the cruelty our current predicament. How have we arrived here? I put the blame on the echo chambers of hate in the media.
People are drawn in to those chambers because they seek scapegoats to blame for something not being the way they think it should be. The scapegoat might be trans people, gay people, black people, women, men, liberals, elites, the wealthy, white people, old people--but most often it is the most marginalized who are easiest for people to hate. Authoritarians, be they elected or appointed, stoke our divisions and make us all vulnerable with disinformation and paranoia. It is toxic and it must stop. One day it will. But I predict not anytime soon.
Breath by breath I struggle with my own reactions of antipathy and hate. I am passionate. I hunger and thirst after justice. But I will not embrace hatred and fear. I can see that painting my little sign, perhaps over and over again, will help me stay on my path in peace and present moment compassion.