I met a man today in Ogden who said some pretty harsh things to me a decade ago.
“That was me,” he said as I was leaving a speech at the Convention Center.
I paused and noticed he was holding a copy of my books.
“I was the one who texted those mean things to you after you came back from maternity leave. I was going through a divorce.” He looked down at his feet. “And it was a really hard time for me.”
What a kind face he had. I remembered the texts. They told me I should stay home and take care of my baby, that he liked the woman who had been filling in for me on the radio better, that she was more professional.
“I’ve received a lot of texts like that,” I said, and patted the bench beside me to invite him to sit down. “How are you doing now?”
“I read your books,” he offered. “You’ve been through so much. I just wanted to thank you for what you said today, and ask you to sign my books.”
“Of course.” I reached out for them.
As I handed the signed books back to this extraordinary man, I lingered. “You’ve really taught me something today. Thank you.”
The men and women who send me hateful tweets, texts, Facebook posts and email this week may very well have a compassionate, brotherly conversation with me ten years in the future. (Hopefully it won’t take that long.) What I learned from this dear man today is that every person who reacts with anger and hate is my brother, my sister. When someone calls me an idiot, a fool, uses sexually degrading words to describe me – it’s not about me. There is pain in them, and I happen to be the target. They would not speak this way to their mothers, hopefully, not to their sisters or daughters. I don’t think their better natures would let them speak to me that way in person. Even when we disagree with each other, we can find a way to do so with kindness and mutual respect. I know we can. I can find a way to learn from you, and you may even be able to find a way to learn from me.
One of the people who does this with real grace is Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey. He regularly receives tweets that say things like, “One word for you Booker – idiot.” He responds, “One word for you – love.” He actually takes the time to reply to these people, dozens and dozens of them. I have read some of the most hateful tweets directed at him, and he has turned the other cheek in a way that is humbling and inspiring.
As we approach the election next Tuesday, knowing that it is highly likely either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton will be our next president, I am calling upon all of our higher natures even as I am summoning my own. If you wake on the 9th of November to the result you dread, can you still love your neighbor? Can you still support your government? Can you find things to compliment and love in America? Of course you can. I know I can. The way I see it, I either have time to complain during the four years ahead, or I have time to serve my fellow man – not both. If I waste my time complaining about a Trump or Clinton presidency, I will have squandered the precious time I could have spent loving.
If we take deep breaths now, today. . . if we hold our children and tell them we will be just fine under either president . . . if we reaffirm the values we hold dear, and then pivot to – how can we serve – we will be on the right track to a stronger nation. If we listen to each other more than yell. If we think before we post on Facebook – am I posting in anger? Is the purpose of this post to put down or build up? Am I one who uses demeaning language or one who looks for what is good and praiseworthy in others? Which would I rather my children do – put down or build up? Every bit of energy I expend toward one effort cannot be offered to the other. That person who supported the other candidate – she is my sister, my brother, my mother, my friend. She is my neighbor. When her house catches fire, I come running with a hose. When her mother dies, I hold her hand in grief. When her son is sick, I watch her other children. Can I not show her enough respect to get through an election? Of course I can. We can.
I offer these words of love in support of those who have spoken to me, to anyone, with hateful words. It’s never too late to send another tweet, “I’m sorry. I never meant to speak in anger. I wish you well.” And if you cannot write those words, hold them in your heart.