This translated political cartoon by Spanish artist JM Nieto simply resonates with me. It originally appeared on January 1 for the Spanish newspaper ABC.es (where Mr. Nieto posts daily) with the caption, “Empecemos el año con optimismo” (translation: “Let’s start the year with optimism”).
Me? I have no doubt that 2017 is going to be a year full of conflict and turmoil and lies and incompetence and cronyism and partisan politics and manipulation and fear for those of us who call ourselves Americans. My hope for a government who cares one whit for a person like me is virtually nonexistent.
But I will fight. I will be an active citizen. I will become known to my representatives, from the national level all the way down to my city council member. I will make my voice heard, not through posts on Facebook or merely in rant-filled essays or via one-sided yelling matches with my television, but by becoming educated, by calling and writing not just my own representatives but also others who have influence on the political decisions that affect me and those I love. As I can, I will attend town meetings, community gatherings, policy discussions, governing sessions. I will continue to be part of my political party’s volunteer work force, and continue to serve as an election judge. I will learn about candidates for political office, not only at the national level but also those running for park board or school board. And I will vote. Every chance I get.
I will also be aware of what is going on around me, and be willing to stand up against bigotry, racism, homophobia, misogyny, wherever it may erupt in my life. I will make myself a safe harbor for those who feel threatened. While I do not plan on standing on street corners and foisting my beliefs on others, neither will I stand quietly by when others voice hatred or intolerance or abuse aimed at my neighbors or my community.
But I will also take time to plant flowers.
I will take time to make my world a more beautiful place, simply because I want my world to be more beautiful, unattached to a political agenda, not fueled by fear or anger or desperation.
I hope to plant at least a few flowers in the literal sense when the snow melts and the days grow warmer. I used to grow lots of flowers in the spring in my front yard, while hanging baskets adorned my porch and cheerful planters lined the railings underneath them. Oh, it was so beautiful! But I must live a simpler life now, and those riots of flowers have become more subdued each passing spring. Still, there are many, many other ways to plant flowers.
I can plant flowers by watering the fledging tree on the boulevard, the city’s replacement for the mighty elm that had been there for over 100 years which finally succumbed to age and lightning strikes (yet is still greatly missed).
I can plant flowers by picking up trash along the street in front of my house, to reflect the pride I feel in my neighborhood.
I can plant flowers now, in the middle of winter, by putting out dishes of water for the birds and squirrels and other critters who may be able to find food but not a safe place to drink in this frigid cold.
I can plant flowers right now by shoveling my sidewalk promptly after a snowfall, because I want those who travel through my neighborhood to have safe passage, unhindered by snow or ice. But I also can plant flowers by shoveling the walks of at least some of my neighbors, because they all work hard during the day, and I am usually at home.
I can plant flowers by saying hello to my neighbors, even if they don’t know me, even if they are from the houses and buildings that have a transient population, and by stopping to talk to those who seem open to it. I can plant flowers by watching the ebb and flow of the neighborhood, to ensure that my neighbors and their property are safe.
I can plant flowers by smiling at people. By acknowledging them. By wishing the grocery store cashier a good day and meaning it. By holding the door open for a mother pushing a stroller. By lending a helping hand. Not for the response I get, but for the message I give.
By making my world more beautiful.
Will doing these things ensure that my daughter has healthcare for her chronic condition should the ACA be repealed? No. Will this protect the air and the water from being ravaged by corporate interests? Not much. Will this make sure that not one penny of my taxpayer dollars be used to build some asinine wall meant to isolate us from the rest of the world? Not a chance.
But if I don’t do these things, then my world will be reduced to nothing but fear. To nothing but the fight. To nothing but struggle and vigilance and suspicion. And that’s not the world I want to live in.
I want to live in a world with flowers. I want to live in a hopeful world, one where I can make an immediate difference right here and right now. I want to live in a world where I can look out my window and know what I’m fighting for. One that is worth the vigilance, worth the struggle.
But this is on me. I cannot expect to live in a beautiful world unless I am willing to sink my hands into the dirt and help make it one. Yes, I will be part of the larger world, the dangerous one, the doubtful one, the one that makes my blood run cold when I think on the implications of politics run amuck. But I will also be present in the world of the right here, right now, the one where grace is incumbent on no one but me, where beauty lies right at my fingertips.
~ Sharon Browning