As some of my friends can attest, I generally eschew heated debates about politics. Or religion. Especially religion. One of my friends back in Tennessee loves her a good political debate so much that she has thrown entire debate-themed parties (usually to follow election returns), inviting lots of folks from both sides of the aisle, so to speak. This guarantees plenty of, you know. Conflict. I have never been to one of her parties, although she has pressed me more than once. Nope, in those days I had a lifetime supply of conflict at home, thank you very much. The idea of immersion in that kind of turmoil gives me a stomach ache. Why would I want to do that on purpose? Y’all knock yourselves out. That has always been my mantra.
I generally prefer to think we humans have more in common than not and had rawther focus on that. Yesterday as I was embarking on the daily adventure of leaving for work–which includes a slow and careful trek down a quarter-mile-long bumpy, twisty, hole-y driveway that crosses two streams (one wide enough to require an actual wood bridge), and finally a steep and curvy ascent up to a big, rural highway–I met a carload of Vermont Barbies head on, except they were in a Saab instead of a Subi. True story.
They pulled up right next to me. I rolled down the window and assumed they were maybe lost. “Can I help you?”
Shoving a leaflet through her window, the woman behind the wheel smiled and said, “Do you believe that man has ruined the earth beyond repair?”
Being perceptive as I am, I recognize a loaded question when I hear one. And being a person of advancing age, I am not one to suffer fools gladly. There is just not enough time for that.
“Nope,” I quipped cheerfully. (I really was cheerful.) “And now I must go to work.”
“What is the name of this road?” she continued.
Trying not to betray my gathering irritation, I replied, “This is not a road. It is a private drive. You are on private property.”
Some people would call that trespassing. I could have toyed with this woman and her colleagues, but I was anxious as hell to get to work and for them to leave. I would have to forgive those who trespassed against me later.
Not to be dissuaded, she went on. “Who else lives down here?”
“NOBODY,” I said. “THIS IS PRIVATE PROPERTY.” (I was teetering on the edge of suffering fools gladly at this point, and so I am sure there was discernable irritation in my voice.)
She got my meaning and rolled up her window. I hesitated at the top of my drive long enough to make sure they were in fact behind me, and then I was on my way. Sheesh.
* * * * *
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I dropped my second-grader at school and returned home to a flurry of emails from my Uncle Stan. The first one just read, TURN ON YOUR TELEVISION. And then like millions of other Americans I watched the horror of the day unfold, chewing my nails, consulting with my now ex-husband, wondering whether I should get back in the car to go retrieve my child–whose school was perilously close to another attractive target, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. By the time I tried to call Stan to make sure he was okay the phone lines were completely jammed.
* * * * *
I reflected on my driveway encounter all day long yesterday, partly bemused (I mean, I am not exactly on the beaten path here), partly annoyed as all get-out (how dare they come onto this property and waste my time with the ridiculous tripe they’re peddling?). But I know they and others of their ilk genuinely believe they possess an important truth and feel compelled to share that with as many people as will listen to the message and consume it, no matter how misguided. And isn’t it a great thing that they can do that here without fear of reprisal (except possibly the uneven temper of a slightly aged ballerina who does not wish to be late for work)?
And isn’t it fantastic that my friend can invite people with widely disparate political convictions into her home for lively debate, and nothing happens–except lively debate?
Tonight I am thinking of all the people who perished thirteen years ago today at the hands of festering intolerance and loathing, and of the people in the world who are emphatically not free to practice their chosen religion, or to opine about politics. And I am thinking of Uncle Stan.