Coexisting, by accident?
My Best Beloved, The Ailing Rescuepoo* and I are up at our cabin by a creek in the mountains of Pennsylvania. We love it up here, and my new tag line is, “You can learn a lot sitting by a creek.”
Here was yesterday’s lesson.
We were walking the Ailing Rescuepoo* along the creek road, a narrow strip of gravel with hundred-year-old log cabins on one side and the Bushkill Creek on the other. There aren’t many people up here just now. The opening of fishing season is past, and the raucous, firework-and-gunfire parties of Memorial Day are over. We don’t mind fishing season, since fishermen are generally quiet folk (even if some of them don’t know how to respect a creek and toss their cigarette butts in the water, triggering a scolding from yours truly). Memorial Day is another story. We never come up here then. There’s enough fireworks – which are legal in Pennsylvania — and gunplay — how these folks love “popping cans” — on any regular old Saturday night. On holidays it’s unbearable. My nerves can’t take it.
We are, we think, the only people on the road without at least one gun in the cabin. We don’t own any guns. The people up here think we’re nice but clearly a little lacking in the intelligence department. They claim the only reason there’s so little crime in this area is that everyone’s armed. We’ve never been broken into (touch wood, but then again there’s really nothing worth stealing in our wee cabin), but some of our neighbors have. One neighbor, a woman I’ll call Cindy, was walking her two adorable fluffy dogs past our cabin last spring. She stopped to try to convince me not to take “that vaccine.” She pointed her finger a lot and her voice rose as she informed me “they’re not telling us the truth. I know five people who had strokes right after they took that vaccine. Don’t you take it!”I suspect that probably wasn’t true, but I changed the subject and asked how her summer was. She told me they’d been broken into.
“I’m so sorry,” I said. “Did they steal much?”
“They left all the guns,” Cindy said, “But they took the ammo.”
“You know, that’s not comforting in any way,” I said.
“Well, ammo’s pretty expensive,” Cindy said.
Well, all righty then. Now, Cindy and her husband, a lovely man (the other day he said I looked like a teenager, so yay, him! Snort.) who sort of patrols the lane in his golf cart, would do anything for us. I wouldn’t hesitate to call them if, say, there was a bear on the roof. And they wouldn’t hesitate to come help. I just don’t talk about certain things, like politics and guns.
And then there’s Mike (not his real name). Mike has done a lot of work on our cabin. He is a master craftsman. A MASTER. That man could build a city out of wood from the ground up and not only would it be beautiful, but it would also last forever. He is married to a lovely woman and has two tiny girls, who are the cutest things, and a couple of dogs. Mike has the keys to our cabin. He is kind. Funny. Gentle. And he loves his AR-15. He never leaves the house without a gun on him, “Because people are crazy these days” and always has at least one gun in his truck. He is a one-issue voter: 2nd Amendment, even though he thinks Trump is an idiot. Still, it’s about the guns. Sigh. I adore him.
Now, I should mention, that when I start talking about the folks who live in the mountains around our cabin, people seem to assume they’re all white hillbillies. They’re not. I would say a third of the folks up here are Black. And yes, they love their guns, too. So let’s take that stereotype off the table.
Anyway, back to our walk yesterday.
At the end of the lane, which deadends at a spot where the creek takes a bend and there’s the remains of a bridge that came down in a storm about twenty years ago and has never been rebuilt, is another cabin. The owners rent it out, and sure enough, there was an SUV and a pickup truck in the yard, Virginia license plates. There was also, I notice, a “COEXIST” decal, alongside one for the Marines. I was sort of surprised, to be honest. But I shouldn’t be. I know full well that not all southerners are gun-toting anti-semitic Islamophobic racists, so to see a decal suggesting all religions should live in peace ought not surprise me.
“‘Well, hello there,” a voice said.
I jumped. We hadn’t seen the small, white-haired, rather elfin man sitting around the unlit firepit on the creek-side of the land. We laughed and said hello. The man was wearing a “US Marines” cap.
“I like your ‘Coexist’ sticker,” I said, giving it the old thumbs up.
“You do? Why I thought everyone up here were Democrats,” the man said.
I didn’t want to tell him that while that might be true for much of the North, here in Pennsylvania there are a LOT of Republicans. But I was puzzled. “Well, we are Democrats,” I said. “And I think all religions can get along.”
It was his turn to look puzzled, then he chuckled. “I don’t think you looked closely enough at that decal.”
I took another look and burst out laughing. He was right. It wasn’t about religion, this decal, it was about guns and grenades.
“I hope we can still get along,” I said.
He agreed, and then started talking. He was a great talker. Gentle and polite and funny and self-deprecating in that Southern way. It didn’t take me long to kind of fall in love with this diminutive, elderly marine. He talked about going to West Point and dating Jewish girls from New York, and marrying a Jersey Girl (who was off at the end of the road fly fishing) and not being able to drink within 5 miles of West Point, but knowing there was a bar 5.1 miles away, across the Hudson River in Cold Springs. He had great stories. He owned a pig farm down in Virginia, but he never killed the pigs because he loved them so. He couldn’t ever, he said, hurt a sweet pig. He raised miniature pigs for people who liked them as pets. They make, he told me, excellent pets. Intelligent and affectionate and loyal.
While we were talking a little chipmunk ran up and stood on his foot for a second before dashing off down the creek bank. My dog liked him, too.
I could have talked to him all day and would have if the Ailing Rescuepoo* hadn’t had ideas about needing to do his business and then demanding his dinner.
But the gentleman will be here for a few days, so I hope I’ll see him again. I think he has more great stories.
Coexist? Well, one of the things I’ve learned by living along a creek, is that it’s easy to say I can’t coexist with people I only see from a distance, on TV, or on social media, or in the newspaper, or through hearsay; it’s much harder to say that when someone with a good heart is sitting right in front of me, talking about not being able to hurt a small animal he loves, let alone his neighbor. Do we disagree on many things? I suspect we do. But not on our affection for each other, and damn it, that matters, it really, really, matters.
*The Ailing Rescuepoo’s real name is Bailey, for those who are new to this blog, and he is the dog of my heart. He has two masses, one on his liver and one on his lung. We don’t think we have much more time with him. This is excruciating pain. But that’s not what today’s post is about. I’ve written about it in other blogs and will do so again. Not today.
Brilliant essay! Love the introduction of the other “coexist” decal. You made my day. Regards, Gwen
Thanks so much, Gwen.
Hi Lauren, this is such a timely post. It’s hard to listen to some of the blowhard politicians and other talking heads say the problem with mass shootings in the US has nothing to do with guns, especially when we see statistics on the number of gun deaths in the US vs other countries. So as you say ” it’s easy to say I can’t coexist with people I only see from a distance, on TV, or on social media, or in the newspaper, or through hearsay” …. but similar to you, I imagine I’d feel differently “when someone with a good heart is sitting right in front of me”. Ken T.
Thanks for your comment, Ken. It’s tough times, that’s for sure, but we don’t have to let ourselves be infected with the ‘us vs them’ disease.
Brilliant! I love this post and your open-hearted wisdom. It is hard to break out of our silos. Silos enforced by social media, broken down by actual person to person interaction. ❤️
Thanks so much for your comment, Carol. It means a lot to me.
Lauren, I like the way you see the world and am inspired by the interaction you had with the gentleman pig-farmer. Your discussion with him on “coexisting” and the difference between the two decals you show on your post is so interesting. Some people would have just walked on, but you stayed and had a meaningful interaction. I’ll try and be more open-minded in my future encounters with others.
By the way I read the posts about The Rescuepoo and wish you and Bailey much more time together.
Thanks, Barry. I had a delightful chat with the gentleman. Would love the opportunity to get to know him better. I hope you might meet someone like him. Cheers back!
Dear Lauren, I just read your latest blogpost and it gives me hope, so thank you. Last night I watched the January 6 Committee hearing on tv, and while I already knew what a tragedy this event was, it was chilling to see what our fellow citizens were willing to do at the behest of a self-serving sore loser. We need to find non-violent ways to coexist, and communication and openness is the way to go. Thanks for setting a good example.
Thanks, Christina. I watched the Jan 6 Committee hearing as well. I had watched the events unfold live on my television the day it happened and was completely traumatized. Last night brought much of it back, but I was comforted to know we are in such capable hands. I hope their report, and the calm, non-partisan way they’re presenting it, will help wake this country up and unify us at last. There is SO much work to be done on climate change, poverty, equality, etc., and so little time to waste. It’s madness to be fighting between ourselves while the world burns.
hello Lauren, I have a tough time appreciating the “coexist” image made from images of guns and a grenade. Yuck! There are far too many guns in the US and I’ll never accept that law-abiding folk, whether hunters or not, need a machine gun. Similar to your discussion with the person you met, I also have had discussions with gun-owners and most of them aren’t interested in owning AR-15’s, and some would prefer they not be available for purchase while others feel there should be no restrictions. My position is clear and given the terrible list of mass shootings in the US I’m sad to see the limited willingness to meaningfully change the laws. kind regards, Don Peterson
Hello Don, thanks for your comment. You and I are in agreement. I am deeply saddened by those who insist on their right to use military-style assault weapons. I believe if you want to use those guns you should be in the military.
However, there are those who disagree, those who insist on owning them. And they will probably always disagree, just as we are unlikely to change our beliefs. So, what to do? My first, knee-jerk response is to say they are either misinformed, ignorant and lazy, or biased. They, of course, are saying the same about me, and neither of us is behaving as our best selves. Such polarization isn’t useful.
The question should be, perhaps, where can we find common ground? Reduced to the most essential, on what might we agree? And start from there.
What I’m saying isn’t original, and it is bloody hard work. I mean REALLY HARD WORK. Condemning someone and walking away is so much easier. And yet, I fear what walking away might lead to.