I had a post about exercise equipment scheduled, but I would be remiss if I didn’t address the events that happened in my hometown over the weekend.
Friday night, sitting on my couch watching Mad Men, I started to see tweets about a gathering of Neo-Nazis at UVA. I perhaps naively thought it would be a gathering of “just a few” when I clicked on the live feed – Nazis are (supposed to be) a thing of the past.
There were hundreds, carrying torches.
I listened to someone shouting at them to “line up two by two.” And then I watched them march down a street I travel along several times a week. A street that, a few days from now, will be swarmed with UVA students taking a break from moving into their freshman dorms to buy new UVA swag and have one last dinner with their parents before they’re off on their own. I watched as these people said horribly vile things, marched through UVA’s historic lawn, and circled the Thomas Jefferson statue that stands in front of the Rotunda.
I didn’t want to watch, but I couldn’t look away.
Charlottesville is an idyllic town. We’re always on some sort of list – Happiest Place To Live, Best Small Towns, Most Pet Friendly… We love our beer and wine and have strong opinions on which are the best. We pride ourselves on buying local, eating local, working out local. We know where the best sunsets are and as long as there isn’t snow on the ground, there’s probably a 5K to be entered.
I’m a bit of an odd duck in the fact that I grew up here. Most of my friends aren’t from here. People find their way to Charlottesville for school or our world-class medical center. Charlottesville is a melting pot, a place that welcomes people of every color, creed, and religion.
I’ve struggled with Charlottesville lately. The city has problems, make no mistake. They aren’t limited to statue removal or white supremacists, the many issues front and center this weekend. The cost of living is high, a stroll down the mall shows the homeless population has grown, and even something as simple as parking downtown has become a hurdle.
I spent Saturday locked in my apartment just a couple of miles away from the violence, listening to the sounds of state police helicopters. I did go to Wegmans which is across the street and at the time, it was patrolled by police. Both were older gentleman. I told them thank you.
When the news of Heather Heyer’s death reached me, I cried. Acts of terrorism aren’t supposed to happen here. They aren’t supposed to happen anywhere. Nothing that happened on Saturday is supposed to happen. I questioned – still question – how my town had become the focal point for such hatred. I said prayers and dreamed of a world in which hate doesn’t exist.
We’re not born with hate in our hearts. We’re taught to hate. Hate is a learned behavior. While I was raised not to see color, race, or religion, others weren’t. I thought of the children I will have one day and how much I don’t want to bring them into a world filled with such disregard for human life. As much of an idealist as I am, I know we have too much work to do, too far to go, to eradicate hate anytime soon.
But then, I thought better of it.
I want my kids to know hate. I want them to see it, and I want them to respond to it. I will raise them as I was raised – to love their fellow humans, regardless of what they look like or what God they worship. More importantly, I will teach them to recognize hate, and to stand up for it. Maybe they will march for the rights of others, or maybe they will simply be kind to the barista wearing a headscarf when they order their latte, but they will know hate, and they will respond to it with kindness.
Think about it.
The root of Saturday’s vileness was caused by a small handful of people. If just a few people can fuel a fire of hatred, think of what a few people who display kindness can do. It creates a ripple effect. A kind smile and a good morning to the person waiting for an elevator with you can turn their day around. They pass that smile along to someone else and on it goes.
I’m not foolish. I know smiling at a stranger isn’t going to solve the many many problems our world faces. But if we’re not doing something, nothing will change.
And so, I challenge you. Make it your goal to be kind to three people today. Give them a smile. Put your phone away and strike up a conversation while waiting in line. Pay for the coffee order of the person behind you. Invite the co-worker you don’t know all that well to lunch. Put love and good will out there.
Hate is learned. It’s costly.
Love is free. It’s priceless.
What do you have to lose?