I am waiting. For the tomatoes to bloom and the peppers to flower. For the sweet fruit of community peace. I don’t say world peace; that feels too big in the moment. World peace? It’s all I can do to garner peace on my windowsill; to keep the herbs growing. To keep them alive.
ln the beginning, there were seven teensy basil seeds. Meticulously, I put all of them in a pot of soil. I had doubts that the basil seeds would take root. Like I have doubts that I’ll wake one morning to find that the world has righted itself and the emboldened fascists in all countries have vanished. The basil grew and erased my doubts. My doubts about the world remain.
Within 14 days, the tiniest of leaves, so tiny I could barely see them, had sprouted. Thus (yes, I used the word “thus.”) began a cycle of magic. I received planted gifts from neighbors and friends: two cilantro plants, a mature basil plant, potted rosemary, two cherry tomato plants, and the pepper. Will I ever see fruit from the pepper or tomatoes? I want to think that where there are buds, there is hope. My other plants, the spider plant, dracaena, jade, and lucky bamboo seem to welcome the herbs with joy. They grow as if on steroids.
I watch these plants, talk to them like I talk to the trees. I have read that talking to plants lets them know we love them. One thing’s for sure. When I’m focused on my herbs, I’m not focused on chronically angry liars. This leads me to my rant of the week.
One has the power to choose tenderness over anger. Respect over disrespect. To choose the truth over a lie. Sadly, in countries throughout the world including the United States, folks have chosen the lie. In the U.S., it’s The Big Lie. It’s a very, very rough time for humanity.
Chronic anger terrorizes. Chronic anger hijacks the truth. Hearing the shouts of chronically angry people has taken my gaze from the pepper plant. For a moment. The chronically angry have done unbearable damage to our democratic structure. We know who they are. Some are friends. Some are family. They are people who get pissed off about everything, particularly anything that seems to make another person’s life easier, better; particularly things that show compassion and respect for their fellow human beings. Like masks.
They lie about the earth’s catastrophic climate change. People are dying from the heat. They lie about the fires in California and Greece. They lie about and spread conspiracy theories about life-saving vaccines and about COVID infections. They lie about the January 6th insurrection at the United States Capitol. They die in hospitals insisting they have pneumonia and not COVID. They lie.
In my wanderings throughout the United States, I’ve learned some things. Contrary to the angry screaming of fundamentalists about a punishing God, all of this dis-ease, physical and mental suffering, is a sign of ingratitude and disrespect for the life around us: Animals. Vegetation. The air we breathe. Disrespect for human beings who inhabit every corner of this earth peacefully going about their day-to-day business and loving each other.
God is not angry with his/her creation. I don’t believe, not for one holy second, that we live under the auspices of an angry God. Amid our terrors, trials, and obstacles, people of all identities ─ spiritual, gender, racial, even political ─ are falling in love. Babies are being born. The kind-hearted and empathetic are feeding the hungry. Many Christians are following the teachings of Christ. Families are being sustained. Art is being made. Chefs are creating cuisine. Peppers are growing on a windowsill.
We do find our way, don’t we?
For the past few minutes, I’ve watched as a red spider builds her web outside on my window screen. I squirted water on her web and she scooted away. I didn’t want to kill her, I didn’t spray water out of anger. I just let her know that she needed to find another place to build her web.
“I’m so sorry,” I said. “You cannot live here.”
She returned, just as the love of God always returns when we become aware of ourselves falling into the black hole of anger. She came back to start over. The stillness of the morning and the focus with which she does her work tells me there is no angry God.
I want to be able to clearly define the anxiety, muck, and division I feel whenever I use the word “hate.” The word itself is exhausting. I wonder, sometimes, if the paralysis I experienced with the onset of Guillain Barre Syndrome so many years ago was a connection to my anger and the rigidity in the body. Anger: fists clenched, torso stiffened, jaw tightened, and breath held. Anger. Do I know I am breathing? What does the word hate even mean? Merriam -Webster defines it as “intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury.” (Italics are mine.) Who injured the chronically angry one? What does she fear? As a child of the Baptist church, I know about choosing Holy words to instill fear. And yet, the waters of my Baptism at age ten changed my experience of the Bible. I would open the pages and find words of love. There is no angry God.
Xenophobia. Conspiracies and misinformation about COVID. Lies against the vaccines. The backlash against the facts of science. The unbelievably unhinged revisions to the truths about slavery and the formation of American capitalism. The denial of the genocide of Native citizens. We are facing a huge humanitarian crisis. Still, one has the power to choose tenderness over anger, truth over falsehood, justice over injustice.
My maternal grandparents were farmers. They grew fields of vegetables, tended grapevines, picked peaches from their trees, and prayed at four and five o’clock in the morning. My mother once told me what my grandfather said about pesticides: “If you put that in the dirt, the plants soak it up and then you eat it.” Science. And the tenderness of God.
I wave my hands to the Great Invisible. And the Great Invisible answers. “Your pepper plant needs watering.”
There is no angry God.
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Pluralism. I like the sound of the word. The syllables coat my tongue like chocolate. Sweet and easy. But pluralism is not so easy to understand. America boasts a pluralistic society, so gloriously diverse in race, religion, culture, and ethnicity and yet, we continue to divide ourselves in ways destructive and heartbreaking. For me, one of the great human mysteries is how we can look about, see so much beautiful diversity and continue to treat each other so very badly. No one, as far as I know, has come up with a conclusive answer. It’s been suggested that I read the Pulitzer Prize winning book Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond for context on the subject.
I have been experiencing anxiety about the backlash to the expanding multicultural population in the United States, and I talked with my therapist about it. She questioned me about my use of the word pluralism.
“What do you mean by the term pluralism? What do you mean by a successful pluralistic society?”
My idealistic vision of a peaceful, love-each-other society is something I’ve been struggling with for decades. Her question encouraged me to delve deeper into a concept that I believe I had misunderstood.
Merriam-Webster lists several definitions of pluralism. Among them: “a state of society in which members of diverse ethnic, racial, religious, or social groups maintain and develop their traditional culture or special interest within the confines of a common civilization”
Right. Our common civilization is one that exists under the commitment to equal rights and justice for every individual under the Constitution of the United States.
In 1955, a book of photos from an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, was published. The book, created by Edward Steichen, contained 503 pictures from 58 countries and was titled, The Family of Man.
A friend gave me a copy of the book shortly after I had returned from a year in San Francisco. I had fallen in love with the Bay Area, its people and the progressive politics of the time. This was in the late 1960s during that era’s Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War, and the Nixon administration and its involvement in the overthrow of democratically elected Latin American leaders.
My friend knew of my dreams for a multiracial, multifaith, multicultural society where people treated each other with respect and tolerance. I was 22 at the time, and I often wondered, like so many young people, “What is wrong with humanity?”
The Family of Man became one of my favorites and graced my bookshelf for years. I would flip through the pages leisurely, marveling at the diversity and beauty of humanity. Also during this time, Tony Bennett’s I Left My Heart In San Francisco became a louder and louder siren song. So loud that in 1973, I packed my things and moved back to the West Coast. I never looked back. But I lost the book. I didn’t even think about The Family of Man until I returned to the East Coast decades later.
A fragile dream of multiculturalism
This morning, disgruntled by the disheartening political discourse and the corrosive Big Lie, I resorted to one of my two faithful companions ─ food. The other is prayer. I devoured an unhealthful breakfast of syrupy sweet coffee and a hunk of overly cheesy macaroni and cheese. I had added cream cheese to the other three kinds of cheese I used ─ sharp cheddar, provolone, and Monterey jack. I had used coconut cream instead of regular milk and went heavy on the butter. No eggs. One hunk became two, then three until the pan was almost empty. It was delicious. It was soothing. I felt ─ calm. Then I felt drawn inward. That would be the other companion. Prayer.
I considered pluralistic societies and how successful these societies could or could not be. There’s more to be studied on this, but for now…
In the midst of the media focus on those sowing the hatred and division we are experiencing, I have come to consider that my personal vision of pluralism has been based on unrealistic idealism. My understanding of our particular pluralistic society has changed as we struggle to create a more tolerant and peaceful one. We are not the vaunted “melting pot,” but more like a “tossed salad.”
I found a quote the other day while researching that seemed to state my vision beautifully. (Dear fellow Democrats, let me accept the message if not the messenger!) In his farewell speech, President Ronald Reagan said “…I’ve spoken of the Shining City all my political life. … a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace…”
Reagan didn’t actualize his ideals with his failed trickle-down economic policies, union-busting, and incendiary racial rhetoric. Things got worse. But this phrase haunts me because it is a part of my vision of the United States, “teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace.”
A return to where I ran from
In 2001 I moved to upstate New York, and in 2003, because of my mother’s illness, I moved to Philadelphia. There, I was referred for an informational interview where the interviewer, a woman, looked at my resume and scowled. Then she said:
You spent a lot of time out west. I don’t like it there. All the cultures mixing and whatnot. I like it right here where I am in West Philly. I don’t want to be around people who are not like me.”
So much for brotherly [or sisterly] love. That’s what she said, and my enthusiasm evaporated. All I could think about was what a horrible human being she was.
Shortly after that meeting, I was “garage sailing,” the term I used for sidewalk sales in those days. At one of those sidewalk sales, I found a water-damaged copy of — you guessed it — The Family of Man. I was delighted, re-inspired, and rejuvenated. In my heart, I knew I was right about multiculturalism. The Universe had spoken! The woman at the interview was irreversibly wrong.
So here we are again. Living our lives like a scratch on a broken record. We are stuck. We move forward a little and then we hit that damned scratch. We eat Asian cuisine. We salivate for Mexican and Latinx food. We like Russian, Italian, Indian, and African foods. We are exploring the health benefits of Native American cuisine. Our eating habits, for most of us, reflect our acceptance of a pluralistic society. We also get treated by physicians, taught by professors, and interact with people during business and leisure with people from various countries, cultures, ethnicities, and religions.
Many continue to balk at accepting a reality of a vast and diverse population, spewing hatred and division among us. Fact: we are becoming a more and more beautifully diverse society every day. The latest census report revealed that 57.8% of Americans identify as White, a decrease from 63.7% in 2010. The rest of us are everything else.
Today, as I was listening to an interview with the U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, I was moved by her depth of empathy for people of all colors and cultures. As a Native American and, in my view a social warrior, she uses the poet’s platform to tirelessly bless and protect the native peoples by bringing their stories and history to the front of American consciousness. She’s doing the work to bring tolerance and cultural acceptance. She is encouraging.
We have the potential to become that shining example of peaceful pluralism.
Posted in Commentary, Essay, Political reflection, Writing from the heart
Tagged Commentary, creative nonfiction, essay, Humanity, Kindness, Reflections, values and spirituality, world view