With the long lock down of Covid-19 behind us for now, it was a welcome addition to a retired woman's routine to go to the local greenhouse to get seed for the garden and plants for the front porch. The trip was long overdue but the cool Spring weather had delayed it by a week or so. I had no idea that this trip would be such an eye-opening experience.
As patrons milled around the stands of herb, vegetable and flowering varieties, two men jabbered like old hens without any concern for who overheard them. There were comments about not being able to find the "right" variety and objections about how cool the weather had been. Jabs about the government and gas prices ramped up the rhetoric. One half of the duo seemed uncomfortable with the conversation's direction and asked questions in what seemed to be an attempt to steer the dialogue into safer territory. The louder, more animated man would have none of it.
By now it was just my husband and I and the two men weaving through the racks. That was when I realized that America's brush with death had not been quite as earthshaking as it perhaps had needed to be. America's values were still a bit off.
"If that was my car, I wouldn't be able to drive it until I had washed it!" came a clearly upset male voice from behind the rack of plants. "Why don't people take care of their cars? That's just a terrible way to treat a car."
Too busy to really pay much attention to the object of the man's disgust, it was not until I returned to our car and my husband directed my attention to the bird poop, covered front hood that I made the connection.
The target of the man's disdain had been an otherwise well-maintained, practical, twelve year old SUV that had been a recent purchase as a "retirement" upgrade. The tires were good. The paint was in warm brown that hid most dirt. The windshield was clear and the tags up-to-date. A half dozen large white blobs that washed off in the next rain shower, had caused someone to judge me harshly. Nothing more.
On our way home, my husband and I lightened the mood by creating sharp comebacks that could have been lobbed at the critic.
"Please Sir, forgive the birds. I'll have a talk with them when I get home!" was my husband's favorite.
As someone who uses a cane for both mobility and sight issues, my comments were a little less jovial.
"Oh, I apologize. I will be sure to park it away from the store so customers like yourself will not have to see it. It won't take me that much longer to walk to the store."
"I just can't wash the car like I use to. My doctor is afraid I will fall. I guess I will just need to stay home until I can get it washed."
Sadly, this isn't an isolated incident. Nearly every recent venture into a public place has included some type of interaction that made me wonder if returning to society was worth it.
Recently, a fast-food outdoor dining experience had a custodian start up conversations about politics and religion based on one simple question, "Where are your from?" Then there have been the awkward phone calls from dental and medical offices trying to get us "back on the schedule" even during the peak of Covid-19 deaths. Were they concerned for my health or their practice? Strangest of all is the assumptions people make based on appearance or a single comment. America is still a country of strong opinions and little room for compromise. My way or the highway seems to remain the unwritten motto of American culture.
Do any of us REALLY want to go back to NORMAL? I will readily admit that I have a strong value system and am not afraid to express my opinion. It would be difficult to be a writer without clear insights, no one has to read what I write. But, after years of experiencing a sense of loathing from people for minor infractions such as my voting preference or seeing a different path than the same one traveled for generations, it's time to say enough is enough. The idea that everyone except us live without some level of disrespect and prejudice is a fallacy promoted by those who benefit by dividing communities.
Diversity does not mean being friends with everyone or giving up personal values to adopt others. It means common civility and respect, while adopting a sense of decorum that does not put total strangers on the defensive with every spoken word.
With mask mandates and social distancing guidelines being dropped across the country, it will be interesting to see if Americans value their neighbors more now then they did eighteen months ago. Unfortunately, ss long as bird poop on a car is considered a character flaw capable of strong emotional disgust, this country will never be what it claims to be.