Not spoken, but written. Not signed. Left on my windshield… glimpsed on the bumper of a car in a parking lot here in Santa Fe. I won’t repeat them because they stick like burrs in memory. But we all know what they are, and we all know the abusive words they use.
Is this happening more frequently now?
I believe so. We are led by a man who uses violent language, to the amusement of many, including some of my dearest and closest friends.
Sticks and stones can break my bones,
But words can never hurt me.The only possible solution is radical, and like all radical ideas, it is impractical and idealistic, like some of the programs that will be cut.
We used to chant those lines, as children, to disarm our attackers. But those ugly-word children spoke directly to us, and we knew who they were.
People who use ugly words in some form of electronic or printed message, who do not face the people they are lashing out against—in many cases, they are total strangers—are cowards.
But we have learned to accept cowards, since our screens are full of them. Unknown people who launch broadsides against people they don’t know are by definition cowards, since they face no consequences. Anyone can do anything if there is no threat of consequences—or at least nothing that keeps them awake at night. The “prick of conscience,” like an old needle, is dulled.
“I could shoot someone dead on Fifth Avenue and it wouldn’t matter,” the President said.
Violent words will eventually lead to violent actions, especially if the perpetrator can hide. All the men on SWAT teams who break into people’s houses and, in one recent incident, throw a flash grenade into a baby’s crib, causing great damage, are not cowards, but they operate under the protection of their uniforms, helmets, and masks, and under the protection of our increasingly violent government. And they have no names.
What is the solution?
The only possible solution is radical, and like all radical ideas, it is impractical and idealistic, like some of the programs that will be cut: Meals on Wheels, The National Endowments.
The solution is love.
Love is what we offer, first, to ourselves, as our feelings are wounded in these exchanges.
Love is what the members of the Bethel Church offered to their assailant, who had murdered their relatives.
But to love against the grain takes more than mere human motivation. It requires a touch of the divine.
On the other side of this horror, two bright realities appear. One is the activism of great groups of individuals all over the world. The photographs in the most recent issue of Ms., showing the amazing crowds, the banners, the worldwide collaboration to support principled opposition. These crowds have not been seen before. Not even during the Civil Right battles here, or during the Vietnam protests. These numbers are great as the threat is great, and somehow, somewhere, our voices will be heard.
And then I believe the progress we have made, as a society, since the 1950’s has had a role to play in prompting, at long last, this virulent reaction. If the Civil Right movement had failed, if Vietnam had dragged on for more decades, if we women had not succeeded in denting the patriarchy, this reaction would never have formed.
We have moved ahead as a country and as individuals, and any change, especially one of this magnitude, brings out violent opposition.
And there are the still small voices of opposition, expressed in a sign Pip and I passed on one of our neighborhood walks, attached to the fence in front of a small adobe house:
IN THIS HOUSE WE BELIEVE NO HUMAN IS ILLEGAL.
LOVE IS LOVE.
SCIENCE IS REAL.
WOMEN’S RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS.
BLACK LIVES MATTER.
WATER IS LIFE.
KINDNESS IS EVERYTHING.
Listen, please, to Allen Ginsberg’s rich, worn voice reading his poem to love.
It’s all we need.