Time for everyone to take a breath and honor that which unites us.
Against all advice to the contrary, I very occasionally read the comments on political threads on Facebook. Surprise! Most of the time, I discover trolls–hateful, mean-spirited folks who seem to delight in starting and stoking fires. But a recent post on my local Nextdoor bulletin board caused me to wonder if many of us hadn’t become so accustomed to seeing only what we agree with that when something pops up we don’t like, we feel compelled to speak out against it.
If you’re not familiar with it, Nextdoor is an app that allows neighbors to find lost pets, announce garage sales, make restaurant and repair recommendations. They ask about strange noises or warn others about local vandalism and theft.
The point is it’s neighborly, not political.
Here is the official statement from Nextdoor:
“Posting about local events on Nextdoor is appropriate, even if these events are related to the election or other national issues, as long as it is done without campaigning…. It’s not appropriate for a member to make arguments either for or against…particular polices. “
Recently, someone posted this announcement for a crab feed called, “Crabbin’ with the Democrats.” Clever, right? Unless you’re a certain type of GOP (Grumpy Old Person), that is. Then you come out of your shell just long enough to make some snide remark or protest the absolute gall of the person posting about such an event. What was the response? No surprise, the comments got increasingly snarky, breaking the very rule they were so intent on reminding us all of. Wisely, the comments were closed before an actual war broke out.
Nevertheless, the brief kerfuffle got me thinking about how we consume our news. What comes into our view? How is controlled? And by whom?
If you use Facebook, as I do, you need to understand just how narrowly curated your news-feed is. When we habitually “like” pictures of puppies and kittens, we see more of them. When we “like” the ACLU (or the NRA), Facebook uses that information to send us more of that point of view. And of course, because it’s a social medium, we feel the need to “like,” “share,” and do whatever else we do with that information. We also get used to spouting off without fear of backlash because almost everyone and everything we see aligns with our own beliefs.
The trouble is, I think some of my Nextdoor neighbors simply forgot where they were. They also forgot common courtesy when interacting with other humans, even on the internet. I doubt they would have said anything face-to-face.
So, here’s my advice, especially to those in my demographic–those who are over-sixty-five, retired, and use the word kerfuffle. The next time you see something in your news-feed, imagine you are seeing it in an actual newspaper. Remember those? Is it so inspiring (or funny) you’d cut it out and mail it to your best friend? Would you pin it to your actual bulletin board next to photos of your favorite niece? Or is it so void of thought and human decency that it’s worth an actual letter to the editor? If not, kindly (and quietly) move along. The world doesn’t need more hate. We’re full up.
If you’d like to do better, here’s an acronym to remember while on social media or IRL (In Real Life). Simply hit your “pause” button and THINK.
Once again, Swedish author, Fredrik Backman introduces us to a rather cranky, unlikable character and then proceeds to make us care for and empathize with said character. Long-suffering Britt-Marie was the sixty-something “nag-bag” neighbor in My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry. As her story begins, she has at long last left her unfaithful and unappreciative husband. She takes a job at a recreation center in the small, run-down village of Borg, and does what she always does. She cleans. And then cleans again.
Slowly and somewhat reluctantly she becomes acquainted with and invested in the villagers including the town’s cop, the ragged kids who play soccer on a makeshift field, and the wheelchair-bound operator of the town’s pizzeria/post-office/corner shop/garage. Oh, and she confides in the mouse she feeds Snickers and Nutella.
Some of Britt-Marie’s thoughts:
“At a certain age almost all the questions a person asks himself are about one thing: how should you live your life?”
“She wonders how much space a person has left in her soul to change herself, once she gets older. What people does she still have to meet, what will they see in her, and what will they make her see in herself?”
She is puzzled by, but learns to appreciate the passion those around her feel for soccer and what the teams they favor says about them. And she learns about the impact of circumstances and choices on lives, including her own.
“If a human being closes her eyes hard enough and long enough, she can remember all the times she has made a choice in life just for her own sake. And realize, perhaps, that it has never happened. …they have all been for the sake of someone else.”
As in Backman’s other books, there is plenty of food for thought here. It was a slow start for me, but had a very satisfying finish. Both the small Swedish village and Britt-Marie were changed by the end of the book. Perhaps you’d enjoy a few days in Borg yourself.
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman has been on my cyber nightstand for a long time. Then the Swedish movie popped up on Netflix. When I finished My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by the same author, it showed up as a recommended next read. Finally, the stars aligned and the Kindle version became available at Overdrive from my local library.
Ove (pronounced “Oova”) is a cranky old man, recently widowed and forced into retirement. Throughout the book we see the world through his eyes. Life is bleak and the changing world is filled with idiots. No one knows how to do anything anymore.
Here’s a sample of Ove’s worldview:
“Should one really have a driver’s license if one can’t drive a real car rather than some Japanese robot vehicle, he wonders. Ove doubts whether someone who can’t park a car properly should even be allowed to vote.”
“People didn’t know how to…brew some proper coffee. In the same way as nowadays nobody could write with a pen. Because now it was all computers and espresso machines. And where was the world going if people couldn’t even write or brew a pot of coffee?”
“People said he was bitter. Maybe they were right. He’d never reflected much on it. People also called him antisocial. Ove assumed this meant he wasn’t overly keen on people. And in this instance he could totally agree with them. More often than not people were out of their minds.”
As the book progresses, we learn Ove’s story is one of sadness, almost from the beginning. Nevertheless, the book is far from depressing because we meet Ove’s neighbors and the Cat Annoyance and see them interact in human and quite humorous ways. We feel empathy for the old grump.
This is a charming book, with many laugh-out-loud moments. I highly recommend you read Ove’s story. Then watch the subtitled movie, perhaps with the curmudgeon you love.
The book begins quietly with Swedish immigrant, Lordor Nordstrom advertising for a bride to join him on his dairy farm in Missouri. Katrina Olson, recently arrived from Sweden herself, reads the ad in Chicago and comes for a visit. Lordor is smitten, but wisely awaits the verdict of the women of the community.
“It was a look in her eye that certain immigrants recognized in one another. A look of hope and determination, almost as it she was gazing past him, far into the future.”
Lordor and Katrina marry and build a community that eventually becomes the town of Elmwood Springs. Their story reminded me of my own Swedish and German immigrant ancestors who settled in Minnesota, Ohio, and Missouri. They relied on one another and their neighbors when they first arrived here.
“You depended on them for your very survival. It didn’t matter if you liked some more than others. They were your neighbors.”
And the neighbors do talk. And talk. We soon discover that the conversations go on beyond death, as we listen in on residents of Still Meadows Cemetery reconnecting and chatting amongst themselves. They enjoy visits from loved ones they left behind and they remark on some hard-won life lessons.
“I think most people are confused about life, because it’s not just one thing going on… It’s many things going on at the same time. Life is both sad and happy, simple and complex, all at the same time.”
But every once in a while, one of the voices at Still Meadows goes silent and is never heard again. Where do they go? It’s a mystery.
The book also tracks the growth and eventual demise of small-town America, from 1889 through 2020 with references to wars, music, technology, and the arrival of Wal-Mart. The changing times have some residents of Elmwood Springs worried.
“Macky was glad he and Norma had grown up when they had. They had come of age in such an innocent time, when people wanted to work and better themselves… Each generation had become a weaker version of the last, until we were fast becoming a nation of whiners and people looking for a free ride—even expecting it.”
Of course, the young people feel differently.
“… people are so much more tolerant and accepting of everything now: different races, different religions, different lifestyles… Life is so much easier that when you were growing up, and women are just doing everything, and now with the Internet, well…the whole world has changed. Honestly, I have to say I grew up in the very best time possible.”
I was also charmed when Flagg mentioned Elmwood Spring’s connection the WASPS, the fine female pilots she wrote about in The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion.
The takeaway lesson here is “It takes time and lot of suffering, but sometimes, when you least expect it, life has a strange way of working out.” Readers can count on Flagg for a happy ending, even when it happens in the most unlikely of ways. You just never know…
“It may take a while, but everybody gets what they deserve, eventually.”