The love of our neighbor in all its fullness
simply means being able to say to him,
“What are you going through?”
— the prophet Simone Weil
We’re sitting on our picnic table at the regional park after surviving another outing, other than Mo crashing now and then. What’s the point of mountain biking without crashing? That’s like eating an ice cream cone without the top scoop falling off and you scooping it off the sidewalk and stuffing it in your mouth while hoping nobody notices. Now I want ice cream.
We’re looking at the campers that have moved into the park host spots on the far end of the trailhead parking lot. They are slightly larger than our apartment, with $100,000 worth of pickups parked nearby. That’s not the annoying part. Which is, the flag.
The nearest camper has an enormous flagpole with the American flag flying. That’s OK, I guess, as long as they’re still including the three stars for the states along the West Coast. But just below it hangs a large “Don’t Tread On Me” flag.
We’re not sure what the significance is, being liberal and changing channels whenever Dr. Sheldon Cooper’s “Fun With Flags” comes on TV. So we Google it (no, Google hasn’t been shut down by the Justice Department just yet) and read up on the history.
If one squints, it’s a perfectly legitimate flag, designed in 1775 during the American Revolution. So I suppose it has historical significance, but why would one fly it in 2020?
And then we read the third act of the play. In recent years, the flag has been adopted by the Tea Party as a rallying flag. It’s enough of a flashpoint that The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission stated that depending on the circumstances the display of the Gadsden flag (named after its creator) in the workplace could be considered racial harassment.
We think about storming the castle, or complaining at the visitors center to an elderly volunteer who will pretend to listen while staring blankly and writing on a notepad “please god make them go away please god make them go away.”
But then I read more about it. Rocky’s brother-in-law Paulie wore the flag on the back of his jacket in “Rocky IV” while they were in Russia. And Nike used it in commercials for the U.S. men’s soccer team, and the flag shows up occasionally at the national team’s games. What sport is more American than soccer? Um, oh yeah, all of them, except maybe curling, and steeplechase, which likely isn’t even a sport. Jumping over water puddles? Talk to 6-year-old Gary.
The flag is even offered as a license plate in several states. AND it’s featured in a “Simpsons” episode in which Benjamin Franklin picks up a sled with a modified version of the flag reading “Don’t Sled on Me.” One does not trifle with The Simpsons.
So you complain about the flag flying on regional park property and the guy says he supports soccer and the history of the U.S. and that precocious scamp Bart Simpson, blah blah, nothing happens.
I do the Rubik’s Cube in my head. If we had pulled into the parking lot and there’s an Oregon guy in a converted touring van running off bacon grease flying an American flag with a large rainbow flag beneath it, I would cheer his sentiment and help put out the flaming van set on fire by members of a right-wing coalition the president isn’t aware of. It’s all a matter of where you stand. Or sit, in this case on our picnic table. I might have mentioned that already.
So what do you do?
Maybe Mr. Weil is right. Maybe it’s all about asking the other person what he’s going through, and trying to understand. Less hate, more communication. Share ideas. There’s a spot outside our library set up so that people can stand 6 feet from each other and talk things out, I suppose under the assumption that most people can’t land a right hook from 6 feet away.
But that would require talking to strangers, and the world can go up in flames before I take such a drastic action. So we move on. I figure we can use the secret gate on the other side of the park and avoid having to look at it in the future. Survival through adaptation. It’s only six months or so.
Maybe that’s the key to survival these days. Wash your hands, wear a mask, don’t touch intolerant people with a 10-foot pole.
You don’t tread on me, I won’t tread on you.
And remember kids, no matter how tempting, resist the urge to hug a cactus.