I was riding my bike on a warm, fast approaching hot, morning. This morning to be exact. No one was willing or able to go with me but I needed to go. I needed to feel something, something different than what I was feeling. I hoped to pedal the cobwebs out of my head and the horror out of my heart. One being easier than the other.
After about 25 miles of pedaling, the cobwebs were about gone. The horror, I discovered (and already knew) couldn’t be outrun. I saw two women in the middle of the bike trail. A large square of the trail was wet. I saw bicycles lying in the grass, they had ‘something’ in their hands. The first thought I had was that someone had been hurt in some way. I slowed to a stop and asked if everything was okay.
They said no. Someone had painted a swastika on the trail and they were trying to clean it off. From the looks of the size of the wet square, it was quite large. I offered to help. They both smiled and thanked me. They said no one else had offered to help or expressed any feelings regarding what they told them had happened. I parked my bike in the grass and took the scrub brush. These ladies, Lori and Andrea, had come prepared. They had come across the swastika earlier in the week and come back today, their bicycles laden with buckets, scrub brush, a cleaner to break up the paint, rags, and a willingness to go out of their way to clean up a little bit of ignorance, and hate.
We introduced ourselves while we scrubbed and rinsed. One would go get water from the creek, one was using a razor to pick the paint out of the asphalt, I continued working with the scrub brush. These ladies were determined to erase this mark of hate. We talked about the crisis in America. Not once did we discuss politics or differences. What we discussed, brought together by our willingness to combat ignorance, was community, compassion and change. We acknowledged that we don’t have to see eye to eye to all be a part of the same force. The force that comes together to clean up hate. The force that talks, and talks, and talks some more. Not to convince the other to think the same, but to understand, and work together while we learn about our differences.
At one point we stood looking at the large area. It appeared that the swastika was gone but it was difficult to tell with the pavement still wet. They were making plans to come back out later to check it. We stood around talking. Strangers just minutes before, never aware of the other’s existence. Maybe we didn’t know one another, before. Yet – I do know Loris and Andreas exist. I know I am not alone in the exasperation and uncertainty of what to do to make a difference. They voiced this….this question of not knowing what to do. But they are doing something. Today they erased a mark of hate and ignorance. In a place of tranquility and peace someone had tried to force ‘us’ to recognize their hostility. Lori and Andrea said no. They refused to let that mark remain. In doing so, they left their mark. Maybe the world won’t ‘see’ the mark they left. Because their mark is in the act of caring and restoring. Not destroying and trashing. That swastika did not bring people together to hate openly and freely. It brought people together who openly and freely said no to its message.
I felt the difference.
And though the horror of this world cannot be forgotten once it has been acted out, the mercy, morality and rightness of this world cannot be forgotten either.
And it is with this belief, that every good thing we do, no matter the size of the act-does make a difference.
The horror I felt in my heart this morning was not eradicated. But hope was once again bolstered and emboldened.
My day was made better by people who care. And that’s the very best of what we can do for one another.