In my Dharma talks since the election, I’ve been emphasizing the need for people to listen respectfully to each other and be understanding of those whose views differ from ours. But last night I witnessed something that makes me wonder if I could really give some people that respect.
It was a march organized by the Chicago Housing Initiative, a group using our temple space for some of its meetings. After a rally at the American Indian Center to learn about the rise in homicides in Chicago due in many ways to cuts in city programs, we marched a few blocks to the mayor’s house.
Once we gathered in front of the home, there were several testimonies about the 771-plus victims of violence in the city this year including the woman in the photo above from the Sun-Times story. But it was when another woman in a wheelchair was speaking about losing her young son that all of a sudden, a man came through our gathering, pushing his way between the woman and the news cameras and reporters. People started exclaiming “Hey, go around - don’t cut in front of her,” and all I remember him responding is, “I can’t be walking in the street with all the snow.”
He looked much like the actor Wayne Knight who played the Newman character in Seinfeld and the lawyer in “Jurassic Park.” But unlike Newman he was well-groomed and wearing a stylish wool overcoat. I thought, “What’s wrong with him that he doesn’t want to get his nice shoes and pants messed up in the snow?” Or he could’ve just waited a couple minutes for our gathering to finish up the media event and then disperse.
It occurred to me later that maybe he wanted to deliberately disrupt the woman’s tearful testimony. Some of you might have seen the video on social media of a man giving a homophobic rant in a town square and then a guy playing a bagpipe comes by to drown him out. So in a similar way for the well-dressed Newman, barging in on our gathering was him drowning out the woman who dared to accuse his good neighbor Mayor Emanuel of somehow causing her son’s death.
Needless to say, the woman was quite upset about the disruption. She wanted her voice to be heard through the broadcast media. She and the other speakers who came from the south side were expressing their pain over the losses and trauma of their neighborhoods, a world away from where we stood in Ravenswood, the quiet northside community of quaint Victorian homes with plenty of resources for families to raise healthy, well-achieving children.
The homophobic speaker in the bagpipe video wasn’t really suffering from threats to his life and health so I don’t feel I need to worry about his being upset with the bagpiper. But I felt bad that in so many enclaves in our nation, people don’t have the opportunity to hear from those whose lives have been so degraded by forces that want to maintain privilege and power. That guy walking through our gathering didn’t want to hear of the southsiders’ grief and by cutting right in front of the cameras, it was like he didn’t want others to hear it either.
Is that what our ego-self is like? Our own desire to get somewhere quickly with a minimum of muss to our clothes is more important that letting someone express her grief and call for our help in preventing future violent deaths? I’d like to think something positive about the barging in neighbor. Maybe he was actually some poor actor that really needed the pay so he went along with getting dressed up and disrupting the event.
You can hear more about the event at this link: