fat man with a laptop

Time for henry to dust off his keyboard. I was travelling through upstate New York with my family a few weekends ago, on the way to my sister’s wedding. We had stopped at a rest area along the New York State Thruway for a bathroom break.  As my wife took my daughter to the ladies’ room,  I took my five-year-old son by the hand and we walked towards the gift shop. We live in Maine, which is Red Sox country, and I know from being born and raised in upstate New York that every rest area along the Thruway sells I LOVE NY and NY Yankees merchandise. So as I walked towards the gift shop with my son, I said jokingly, “We’re in Yankees country now, buddy.” (Before I get to the punch line of my story, I should also mention that I was wearing my Made-In-The-USA navy blue Obama ’08 t-shirt.) So as we walk into the gift shop, I notice a man sitting on a bench outside the store typing on his laptop. He heard what I said because under his breath but loud enough to be heard, he said, “You’re in REPUBLICAN country now. What a stupid t-shirt.” I should also note that he said these words with what can only be described as venom in his voice. At first I couldn’t believe he was talking about me. I passed him and continued on my way into the store, pretending to look at magazines and Mentos as my heart thumped in my chest. It was hard to believe that a complete stranger, and obviously a fellow American, would make such a comment to someone he didn’t even know. But these are the times we live in. I would like to say that I should have been brave enough to go back out and confront him, but I had my son with me and didn’t want to make a scene. I thought about the political rallies held recently in this country where people brought guns and brandished them freely. It certainly hampers political discourse if you’re not sure if your debating opponent is armed. Eventually we left the store and the rest area and continued down the Thruway, but it took a long time for that pounding in my chest to abate. As people usually do in these situations, I thought of all the snappy comebacks I could have made, the astute political arguments.  But as I hinted at in an earlier post on metta and democracy, I still have to believe that we are all citizens of the same country. I would have liked to sit down with my compatriot and have had a reasonable conversation. Would it have done any good? Was I right in pursuing the policy, so often used in these times when confronted with a political adversary, of  “do not engage?” My Christian and Buddhist beliefs teach me to have love and compassion for my neighbor. But how should I react when my neighbor, just by looking at me, has already judged me to be the enemy?

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