Monday, July 28, 2008

Punching Signs

On my walk past the crystalline Roaring Fork, the muddy Colorado, dreaming about my bonded Nicaraguan family, I chugged out of Two Rivers Park near the walk-bridge and witnessed a fit, Nordic guy with a backpack, punching the map on the River Trail sign like The Terminator, with vigor. He whacked it at least five times, head-butted once, grunting “You people!” with every jab. Then he looked up, noticed I’d turned to watch after passing, stabbed his finger at me and said, “You people are too weak to fight for your own country!”

I said, “What?” and took a step towards him, hand cocked over my ear.

“You stupid people can’t see your country’s being stolen, much less fight for it!” His blazing eyes bored directly into mine. They seemed very clear.

“I beg to differ,” I said, calmly. “Millions of Americans fight peaceably for our nation and the world, every single day, each in his or her own . . . .”

He cut me off, in English so well-enunciated I knew it was his second language, gained from schooling in another country: “Your government’s a pack of lying thieves, rich on the poor world’s blood! Your country’s a snakepit of unbelievers, coloreds of every shade, illegal aliens, Spanish-only speakers! Drug fiends, perverts, peaceniks . . . . “

“Wait, just a gosh-darn minute! Pacificists are not weak, and I . . . .”

But he just kept on, unhearing: “. . . rapists, indolent wasters, vile corporate crooks, lawyers, bean counters, the dregs of the world so honored here! So many men who think they’re women, and women who think they’re men: Abominations! Dens of vipers, zombies, stains on the world of God’s Living People! We’ll pull them all down!”

“Who’s ‘We’?” I wondered. He'd taken the stance of a prophet, but what a hateful pulpit! Since he’d stopped bashing the sign, though, and hadn’t punched me instead, I figured we’d made some progress in dialogue, so I dove back in: “Some of what you say might be true, but, really, why are you so angry, friend? What hurt burns within you? You’ve sand-blasted all I know, friend, including me,” I whispered to his eyes. “I don’t believe we deserve it! On such a clear day, why abuse us and wallop our public sign? It’s your park, too, yours freely.”

He clearly hadn’t heard my questions or didn't want to listen, more likely. “You people ruin the sacred-holy World and Word of God, old man, and don’t even care!”

He’d got my blood up—“Old man,” indeed!--so I breathed it down. “It takes all kinds of tolerant people to make up “my” America,” I said, “and most of us care, very deeply.”

I reckon I’ve got feistier in my sixties, somewhat surprising. In the past I might’ve scuttled past long before this, but anger, now, cries for help. However, he broke our eye contact, shook his blond hair furiously at my apparent weakness, and returned to battering the sign like Schwarzeneggar.

I’d been dismissed.

Sometimes, it’s wise to read the signs: I backed away, with a “Namaste” and a “Peace” and a “Bless you,” turned and bridged the river, bemused. “Why’d I witness that? Such projection! Does he know he’s so fearful, to spew such generalized hate? To point me out as evil, a total stranger? And what a filthy list! From a guest, for God’s sake! What a Nazi! Should I call the police?” When I turned to look back from the end of the bridge, he’d disappeared.

I shook my muddled head, forged on with burning calories. “He’ll hurt himself far worse than that poor sign. He’s flooded with pain, in and out. Yet, even in his special madness,” I marveled, “I never felt he’d physically hurt me. He sought a connection, but, then, he withdrew.” The two rivers joined, west of the bridge, a confluence of clarity and rain-washed silt, two ribbons in a greater river.

While a stream of loving humanity flows by me every day in this global playground, That One Angry Guy and his righteous intolerance just won’t float away. Since most Americans fall somewhere on his list, it’s wise to know that some among us revile us, beyond reason or cause. It’s the human condition, part of the river. Hating them back, fighting fire with our own blowtorches, makes the world even hotter, burning us double. Rather, I’d choose my heart-waters for protection. Peaceful ways bring change by changing me, diving in pools of clear compassion, my greatest strength.

While punching a park sign still mystifies me, one thing I know in my core: I sure wouldn’t choose to get stuck in the ooze of “his” Nightmare America; I’d rather be flowing midstream in “mine,” free in the current that pushes the rivers to mingle.

Gracias, CenterDoug

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