This summer, a resident of Chester’s main street staked a homemade sign in his front yard, a few feet from the road. In bold, black letters, artfully arranged on a white background, it asks, “What part of 30 MPH do you not get?”
It must be hellish to live on there on Friday afternoons when tourists rip through town and again on Sunday afternoons when they rush to get home to Connecticut, Massachusetts, or New York.
There is so much divisiveness in our world, so much either-or thinking that hurts ears and clogs minds. In our country, you’re either conservative or liberal, rich or poor, black or white, gay or straight, atheist or believer, native or immigrant, Vermonter or flatlander.
Buddhist teachers say that we do better when we think of one another as alike rather than different. I’m not a Buddhist, but I’ve tried to live by sensible guidance wherever I find it, and I used to believe that I was relatively immune to the affliction that causes humans to separate ourselves into tidy categories of “them” and “us.”
* * *
Since I moved to Vermont, I’ve been divested of self-righteousness. I’ve discovered the bigot within me.
Other people go to therapy to reunite with their “inner child” or hand over big bucks to workshop gurus who connect them with their “hidden genius.” I get gobsmacked by a demon.
I’d only lived here for a few months when I began to look askance at drivers in vehicles with out-of-state license plates. I quickly learned to hit my turn signal and steer toward the shoulder when I saw them in my rear view mirror, whizzing toward my bumper. It was easier to move out of the way than get angry.
One Sunday afternoon as I was leaving Chester at a sedate 30 m.p.h., a shiny maroon SUV with Connecticut plates appeared out of nowhere, zoomed passed me on the double yellow line, and flew on by.
His reckless driving proved that he was a person of disreputable character just like all Connecticut residents. They should be deported, I thought as the SUV rounded a curve and disappeared. I was as entrenched in my irrational opinion as the 21 percent of Americans who believe that President Obama is a Muslim.
When I glanced in the rear-view mirror again I saw the flashing lights of a state police cruiser. I pulled over, and the trooper rocked on.
A half mile up the road, he was parked behind the SUV. Lights were still flashing. He stepped out of the cruiser to apprehend the miscreant.
I drove by, raised my hand through the sunroof and gave a merry wave.
“Hasta luego, baby!”
Justice was served, and I was oh-so-pleased.
It was the first time I’d ever experienced schadenfreude, taking pleasure in the misfortune of others. For too many people, misfortune comes unbidden. There is no pleasure in witnessing that, but this guy had invited his own misfortune. That’s how I excused my uncharitable thoughts.
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