I had a great post to write, all about the goody-goodness of love and the sugary-sweetness of compassion. But I had a bad day yesterday. Humility has been my theme this week – all about the reminders that I can be an asshole on occasion. Not even that, but someone who abandons her principles because she’s too damned tired to do the right thing.
It started with a bell ringer. I stopped donating to the Salvation Army years ago, when controversies arose around its hiring practices, as well as some of the money going towards anti-LGBTQ legislation. Fortunately, there are plenty of efficient secular organizations that do good.
But there he was, outside of Walgreen’s, ringing his bell and saying “Merry Christmas!” The wind was the kind of cold that chills you from the inside out. I’ve never cared what holiday greeting people use. Obviously, if you’re Merry Christmas-ing me, you’re likely a Christian and I’m not, but I said Merry Christmas and dropped a couple bucks in. I really just wanted to give the money to him. It’s a shitty job.
I thought about that a lot. The thing with bell ringers outside of stores is that there is a shame factor. Yes, I just spent $12 on hair dye and chocolate, but I can’t spare a dollar for people who don’t have money for hair dye and chocolate? That’s how they get me. I have to avert my eyes from a real human being, clutch my little bag of luxuries and get to the car, where I shame-eat all my chocolate. On a good day, I look the person in the eye, say “have a good day” and keep on walking, recounting to myself all the inclusive organizations I do give to.
May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.
On the whole, I consider myself an old-school feminist. It’s easy to get sidetracked by how other people define the term and sometimes I mumble when I say it. The harder side of feminism is learning to undo the lifelong toxic thoughts I have about other women. I find myself thinking, and sometimes saying, horrible things – things that intellectually I know are wrong.
Yesterday, while talking to a friend, I made a disparaging comment about another woman’s appearance. The friend called me on it. Shame swept over me. I don’t generally notice or talk about people’s outward appearances, mostly because I don’t want to be judged that way and again, intellectually, I know that our culture is sick and bloated with these kind of judgments. But I was cranky and not really in the mood to talk and I say awful things in those circumstances.
So, to write a post here today, about love and goodness and principles of compassion would be, to put it mildly, hypocritical. The short tale I would have told would have been this:
I took one of my daily walks through a neighborhood just off my usual route. In one of the yards there was a sign: “We Choose Love”. I’d been wrestling in my mind about another Trump appointment and was feeling a lot of hatred. That sign made me stop in my tracks. My eyes welled up. So simple. So perfect. The reminder that I had to make a better choice and that love was an option.
There was another house displaying the sign, where a woman was raking up the last of autumn leaves. I said “Excuse me, but where did you get your sign?”
She laughed. “I ordered a bunch of them for our neighborhood and put them on the curb with a FREE, TAKE ONE sign.” And she gave me one.
I carried that sign, feeling a little foolish, the rest of the way home.
We don’t put signs in our yard, much like we try not to wear clothes with logos or put bumper stickers on the car. It’s just our thing – no advertising. So I asked my husband hesitantly, if he’d have an objection to me putting the sign in our yard. And I asked my daughter, whose school bus of feral middle schoolers drops off in front of our house. No objections.
I put the sign up and it felt awkward. Were we trying to look pious and self-righteous? Were we making a political statement? What was the point? The only other sign on the street was a Trump/Pence sign and I wondered if I was being passive aggressive. I started to think about semantics, why the we and why not just choose love. That sounds like a command, and not at all loving. Leave out the word choose and the empowerment is gone.
Then I reminded myself what it had done for me – a simple reminder that we have a choice about where we want to put our energies. It may do nothing for anyone else, but every time I leave and re-enter my home, I am reminded. Especially on those days when I let myself down.
Since putting up the sign, we’ve started to notice them at other places – at schools and churches and in the occasional yard, like a quiet network connecting and nudging us towards our better selves.