I’m listening to a friend I like very much describe her neighbors’ extensive political signs — sizable banners and flags decorate this rural Vermont property. I’m tallying up my book purchase bills for my library when I suddenly pause, listening harder as my friend says she doesn’t think she can walk across the dirt road and be friendly anymore.

A variation of the conversation surface again at dinner, when my oldest says her Instagram posts have been criticized as not political enough, not making a vocal stand against injustice. We’re eating tomatoes and sweet onions my youngest picked from the garden.

Our conversation winds around to the late and great John Lewis, and I remind my daughter of the challenge Lewis posed:

When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.

My daughter, worn out from a long week at work, struggles — what am I supposed to do? Like anyone, she desires to walk the path of justice and goodness. Then she tells her sister and me the heartbreaking story she witnessed that day at work of a Black woman, white men, and fear. What could I have done? she asks me.

I don’t have the answer for her. Listening, I suddenly think, Fuck Instagram and our human — or perhaps American — compulsion to sum up the story of justice and injustice in a few brief sentences. My daughter leaves for a run, utterly dissatisfied and miserable.

I sympathize with my friend who didn’t want to cross that road to her neighbors’ porch again. I’m as guilty as anyone else of barricading my heart to those I don’t understand. But the world, surely, changes through compassion. There’s nothing glitzy or flashy about compassion — it’s messy and painful. But isn’t that the challenge?


Photo by Gabriela S.

12 thoughts on “Neighbors

  1. Well, this isn’t your normal bucolic VT post. I am sorry. Yes, it is very messy and we all need to forge our own path through this hellish landscape. Maybe your daughter could post on her instagram John Lewis’s quote (too many characters?) and remind others that being open-minded, compassionate and peaceful IS taking a stand. Too bad more people don’t chose it.

    • I almost didn’t post this, because it isn’t in keeping with the bucolic vision we cherish of ourselves in Vermont, particularly among the so-called liberals. But this has been a week of so much strife and so much division — and as we head toward the November election — it troubles me to see so much finger pointing and blame in our small towns. What’s the way through this? I’ve long struggled with what I’ve experienced as the hypocrisy of the left — walk with a few signs, but disappear when push comes to shove. It’s a bitter lesson. I don’t have any answers, either, but casting contempt on others seems an easy, but ill-advised course….

      • I think your post just emphasizes that there is no escaping this “social/cultural insanity” – it is every where permeating everyone/thing. It’s like a noxious and deadly gas.

  2. This is something I struggle with as well. Our first reaction in these days of social media seems to be A) aggressively retort B) Block or C) Delete. If only we could speak our minds and not be reviled for it. But then when you see injustice, it certainly tips the scale for me. These are not easy days.

  3. O yes, this is the mucky stuff of our lives, no joke! Once again I appreciate your way with words. I find the paradox of compassion in the midst of say, racism (or transphobia, or agism, or … ) challenging and reaching for the gentle reflex instead of the angry one a regular practice. I guess it’s the real work, no? Moment by moment choosing the best we can do and realizing it doesn’t define us forever. Big hug to Molly.

  4. Thanks for the courage to post this Brett. Appreciate your honesty, as it helps to break the usual “echochamber” mentality of this digital age. GT

  5. Thanks for this comment. I keep thinking of Malcolm Gladwell’s Four Horsemen (I think this was in his book Blink). He wrote that contempt — if I remember correctly — was the most impossible horseman to overcome in human relationships. Contempt breeds contempt. I see that in myself, and all around me. Surely no answers here — except to say, hey, we might want to think a little harder about this….

  6. It’s a challenge to figure out the right thing to do when it’s so clear that something must be done. And the problem of the beloved neighbor across the street that truth be told, now you love less. I have a few. And yet remember the sweet times too but the elephant (ha!) is too gigantic to ignore. I do believe it’s time to take sides and fight like the dickens. I’ve seen something of the alternative and it’s terrible. As for the weird girl social media pressures – just ugh!

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