I’ve had a couple of intense political moments in the last few days. The first was the reading at the Rio Grande County Museum, the second at Safeway, one of the community meeting places in this small town.
Because my reading was pitched to and for veterans, there were three in attendance. I don’t know that book readings are usually a thing men get all jazzed about, but those three men were there and attentive. Two wore hats that proclaimed their veteran status, the branch in which they belonged and the war they were involved in.
Otherwise here, in a definite “flyover” area, you can bet that most voters will be conservative — and they are. The next county — Alamosa — tends to blue or purple. My county is staunchly red. My understanding of the people in my county is that they are old-time Republicans, but they continue voting Republican out of custom or because, generally speaking, locally, the old time style of Republican is still here. They’re not all Fox News fans, either. Some of them I know best are avid viewers of PBS. They are throwbacks to another time and another political philosophy.
My friend Lois tends to be liberal in her political views, more than I am. But we both despise Donald Trump and the Republicans in power who persecuted Obama with the birther BS and who stymie any good legislation coming out of the now Democrat controlled House. We think a lot of things are just palpably, objectively wrong — caging kids at the border of Mexico, for one; taking food stamps away from hungry people, for another. The list is pretty long. My bet is that many of the Republicans around me feel the same way.
Politics is kept under cover here for a couple of reasons. One is the old-fashioned belief that a person has a right to his/her free vote and opinions. You don’t ask anyone how they voted and you don’t judge them based on that. But, primarily because it’s a harsh place to live and we need each other. We know we don’t agree with everyone, but what’s the point of aggression because, when the chips are down, we might need help getting plowed out of our alley or a turkey for our family for Thanksgiving or a coach for a junior soccer team? When everything is said and done, whatever happens in Washington, we’re stuck with each other and we know it.
The intensity came when my friend Lois wrote about the experience of being in the company of all these kind, interested, aware people, one in particular, a man who happens to be a county commissioner. He was very affected by what I read somehow and I think it shook him up — I don’t know how or why.
My friend wrote this last night after she returned home.
I placed the first ornament on the tree this afternoon as Bette Midler sings the Christmas version of “From A Distance” in the background. Michael has cranked up the volume and sings along with all his heart. His voice cracks with emotion when the chorus comes around.
“God is watching us
God is watching us
God is watching us from a distance
From a distance you look like my friend
Even though we are at war
From a distance I just cannot comprehend
What all this fightings for”
My eyes tear up as he sings and I gaze at my new favorite ornament. This little painting was created by the loving hand of my Monte Vista sister. To me, it embodies the spirit of the San Luis Valley which is one of my favorite little pieces of Heaven.
This past weekend I met a handful of folks that came to listen to Martha’s book reading at the Del Norte Museum. They heard about the event from the local radio and newspaper. I enjoyed listening to the conversation after the event and the quickness in which a camaraderie was established. As the last cowboy (rancher/city councilman/preacher) was leaving, I bade him a hardy “Happy Holidays.”
He looked at me with an odd expression for a long second before turning to go. I wondered if he was disappointed that I didn’t say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays.” After all, he shook my hand at least three times in the course of the afternoon. Hadn’t we just engaged in lively conversation extolling the virtues of the valley and the people it contained?
It wasn’t until later in the evening in a conversation about political divides did it occur to me how both that cowboy and I might have misconstrued our parting. I was concerned that he thought my use of the word “holiday” was somehow a subtle attack on Christmas. Perhaps it was confusing to see me in my gingerbread Christmas sweater and Santa earrings not using the correct greeting to indicate I was on the “right team.”
Or it is just as likely that he wasn’t quite sure which exit to use to get to his car. His pause and odd expression might have had nothing to with me. Perhaps it was my own bias that lead to an erroneous conclusion.
Politics be damned and all those talking heads that would keep us perpetually angry at those with differing opinions. I have to think that hanging a wreath on a barbed-wire fence under the shadow of the Sangre de Cristo mountains is something we could share regardless of our differences real or imagined.
From a distance God is watching us. And I still don’t understand what all this fighting’s for. Just go hang a wreath where it is needed most. Put a bit of peanut butter and seed in the pinecones for the birds and some grain in the boughs for the deer. Let peace on Earth begin with me.
I responded that I didn’t think he thought anything at all about her saying “Happy Holidays.” People say that in the San Luis Valley all the time. I felt something in the afternoon had shaken him somehow, but I don’t know what.
But it made me think of how the news media and the words coming out of the fat orange man are designed to pit “us” against “them.” I don’t know — and have never encountered, even in California, anyone who was upset or offended hearing “Merry Christmas,” but Offal would have us think that gentle greeting is under assault by the “PC Liberals.” There have been times my Merry Christmas was met by “Happy Hanuka.” I just feel loved when that happens. Lois’ point about the “talking heads” keeping us “perpetually angry at those with differing opinions” is well taken. If we allow them to affect us that way, we’re the fools.
Today I was at Safeway and I saw an old man in a wheelchair. I thought I recognized him. He was looking hard at me, too. Finally, as I was leaving, I went to him and said, “Richard, is that you?”
He smiled his radiant smile. Richard Gottlieb (god’s love) is a WW II Veteran who fought in WW II in Italy. That’s not all he is. He was an Eagle Scout leader on a national scale, a hiker, mountaineer, volunteer at the Sand Dunes, his stories are fascinating and varied. When the war was over and he got liberty, his commanding officer said, “Go see Italy,” and gave him some money (as I recall the story). Richard, probably inspired by The Merchant of Venice, went to see the synagogue in Venice. That was the Italy he wanted to know.
The second time I met Richard — about a year after I moved here — he embarrassed me by saying, at dinner, “What a beautiful young woman.” I reminded him of that today. “It’s true,” he said. “You just have to look in the mirror.”
He told me he had recently lost his best friend to cancer. “I thought I’d go first,” he said. “The big C. He was young, only in his early 70s.” I expressed my sympathy, remembering how my own grandma stopped caring much about life when none of her old friends were around anymore.
We chatted about health. He said, “You’re getting around well,” remembering, I guess, when I wasn’t which would have been when we last met.
“I got a new hip last year,” I said. “That makes two. I’m amazed I don’t clank when I walk around.”
He laughed. He might be 94 but he’s very very sharp. “Hard for you at the airport.”
“Yeah, I tell them, they pull me out of line and embarrass me in front God and everyone.”
“Dividing us. That’s what they’re trying to do, set us against each other. Martha, that’s not what I fought for. It makes me so sad.”