It’s the month of Love. Home to Valentines Day. And I find myself thinking hard about a simple command from the Book of Leviticus as presented in the Old Testament and the Torah. Never mind that the ancient document dealt with very practical matters such as offerings, unclean animals, childbirth as a source of uncleanliness, sexual behaviors and other such rules for life between 538–332 BC.
I am stuck on the command to “Love thy neighbor as thyself” in the context of today’s challenge. The follow advice, in its essence, seems both timelessly profound and currently illusive. Where I live has something to do with this conundrum. I am a rural area that’s painted a big, bright Red. A place where not wearing a mask is a sign of patriotism. Blanket-size posters and flags supporting the former administration are inescapable and plenty. People driving up Hwy. 50 through El Dorado county are welcomed by a giant banner on the roadside: “NO MASKS ALLOWED ….. “ This popular restaurant has remained open throughout the pandemic. Fines levied by the county for noncompliance to Covid-19 rules have been paid by donations from patrons, and their parking lot overflows with believers and deniers. There is no tally of virus spread from the café – no requirement for folks to reveal to health authorities where they’ve been.
Red runs deep up here, rural roots that speak boldly to independent minds, frontier spirits. To people quick to anger and closed to open borders – both literal and philosophical. After the genie of hate was freed from its lamp by one man with a megaphone, far right neighbors who felt wounded and doomed were empowered to shout their grievances. Lines were drawn in red and blue. Conversations as we’d had them in the past, ceased.
So that’s my conundrum on this Valentine’s day – how to be true to the ancient Golden Rule and love that neighbor who shred my Biden yard sign, find empathy for the thousands who stormed our nation’s capitol, understand people who live with no windows open to the world of ideas and cultural differences.
This, in light of realty – that many (if not most) of the folks I hire to help us on home projects identify with the alt-right. And the other reality – that they will be pleasant people, deliver a good job for me at a fair price, and work hard. I usually enjoy their company. Politics is never a topic of conversation.
So, I wonder where to fall on the Love thy Neighbor spectrum. If people can’t talk about deeply held beliefs how do we become friends? How to we reach understanding? Empathy. I know that love for one’s neighbor is not like that for family and compatible friends. But still, there was once a chance to appreciate those elements of humanity we share, beyond the stripes of red and blue.
I guess that’s what I’m feeling when I come home to find my driveway has been shoveled after a big snow. Or a plate of cookies is on our doorstep, a neighbor lavishly decorates for holidays, the local community center collects toys for kids at Christmas – and so many other small kindnesses that speak volumes to our shared, silent agreement that beneath all the noise, there is love and its color is purple.
From under the cedars, watching for bears, breathing mountain air and being grateful for landing in the Sierra, till next thought hits me like a pine cone thrown by a giant squirrel, be safe, be smart and stick with me ...
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