Over twenty years ago, I wrote the song, GAZA, in response to the violence in the Middle East, notably in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine. It felt as though we were being consumed by violence. It was all around us. So little has changed. Darkness loves a war more than ever, but I still hate it. How about you?
"Oh, Mama! Look up in the sky Another star has lost its light It used to shine on GAZA, but it is no more Oh! the darkness loves a war! I had a sister with a beautiful laugh That made living worthwhile Then one day she got caught in a blast And now I just gotta kill..."
Karin Bardarson is a poet, musician and essayist. She is interested being a decent human being in modern times and how-to plug into the Big Outlet. Read her essays.
ABOVE ALL BE KIND
Someone finally bought the building across the street from me. The red and white FOR SALE sign stood in the window for a couple of years, the storefront forlorn and lifeless, prey to sporadic hot pink graffiti tags, since John, the owner of the Porsche repair shop closed his business. Now, in place of the For Sale sign, hang, what appear to be, four white plastic shower curtains installed across the entire width of the shop window, maybe fifteen feet wide, marked with black Sharpie ink lettering three feet tall in capitals that read…
ABOVE ALL BE KIND.
The sign was a surprise with its sudden appearance and bold altruistic commandment. It stopped passers-by. Some stared. Some took pictures with their phones. You couldn’t help but wonder who was behind the sign and what might be coming to the space.
The sign’s impact was not unlike the happy bewilderment of the Zuckermans, Wilbur-the-pig’s owners, in E.B. White’s children’s story, Charlotte’s Web, who, upon noticing the words ‘SOME PIG’ inexplicably written in gossamer spider silk across a web above Wilbur’s pig pen, experience a renewed opinion of their little runt of the litter. Wilbur wasn’t an ordinary pig. Wilbur was SOME PIG, a cause for a re-evaluation of previously held judgements. Maybe the new owner of the building across the street would be SOME OWNER. And KIND.
The new owner is an artist and a real estate guy, reported my neighbor who lives around the corner. So far it’s not clear what he has in mind for the building, which is always a point of interest to neighbors, but he has weed-whacked the parking strip and cleared off a decades-old tangle of ivy from the building’s roof. Pride of ownership. A good sign.
Amongst the detritus hauled from the roof was a busted-up bright yellow wooden sign painted with John, the Porsche guy’s name, in bright red letters and a four-foot-tall, moss-covered cement sculpture of a young buck with an attentive, tense, forward looking gaze, albeit with part of a nose, an ear and one antler missing, that suggests it senses something significant out on the horizon.
These days we all wonder what’s coming.
I look out onto the street and across to the sign from my writing desk that sits at the window of my second floor studio. From here I observe all kinds of wonderfully ordinary day-to-day action. The ABOVE ALL BE KIND signage has added a theatrical touch to the sidewalk scene, a new stage set for the next act. Humans of all sizes, shapes and descriptions, walk past the sign: this one laughs, that one looks severe, she plods, he hurries, their attire, pace, posture, composure, so much to catch the eye. Who are these people? I don’t know any of them except to say that on a fundamental level we are all related by our common humanity. They are my fellow humans and I am their fellow human.
Perhaps the most important fact of our modern lives is that we are all connected.
Last week, I noticed with some disappointment that one of the shower curtain sections of the ABOVE ALL BE KIND sign had detached from the top of the store window and crumpled in on itself, after which the sign read ABOV L BE KIND. It got me thinking about kindness and signs.
As is painfully obvious these days, the ideas of common humanity, brotherhood, sisterhood, the family of man, the Golden Rule are being soundly thrashed along with civility, respect, honesty, empathy and truth. Those who should know better seem to wield the biggest sticks and spew the ugliest diatribes. The market for hate is hot, the market for kindness is not. Being kind almost seems like a fool’s errand nowadays. I mean, who are we kidding? What difference can kindness make?
Burt Bacharach and Hal David mused musically on this question in their 1960’s hit song, ALFIE1, …
“…What’s it all about, Alfie? Is it just for the moment we live
What’s it all about, when you sort it out, Alfie?
Are we meant to take more than we give?
Or are we meant to be kind?
And if only fools are kind, Alfie?
Then I guess it is wise to be cruel
And if life belongs only to the strong, Alfie.
What will you give for an old Golden Rule?…”
Last week I was caught off guard when the mailman who sat at the wheel of his mail truck, looked up from his pile of letters and greeted me with a friendly, “Hi! Have a great day!” Nobody had told the mailman that it’s wise to be cruel. He still runs the fool’s errand of being kind, connected to his fellows, his goodwill, his humanity. He made my day. SOME MAILMAN, I thought to myself.
Although the yard signs around my neighborhood proclaim allegiance to goodwill, equality, justice, common sense and humanity, I don’t feel very hopeful for our future. HATE HAS NO HOME HERE, WOMEN’S RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS, LOVE IS LOVE, BLACK LIVES MATTER, NO HUMAN BEING IS ILLEGAL and the old stand-by PRACTICE RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS & SENSELESS ACTS OF BEAUTY, resonate with me, of course, but with recent events, the power of a yard sign, a bumper sticker, a t-shirt, even a wholeheartedly held value, seem wholly inadequate to the task of negating the haters. Like the little girl trying to appease the fire-breathing dragon with a fistful of daisies, the power of kindness looks pathetically weak.
Yesterday the ABOVE ALL BE KIND sign was taken down in its entirety and replaced with a translucent film on all of the window surfaces including the glass door. The building has gone mute.
I imagine that the concrete buck will get hauled off to the dump any day now. But, in the meanwhile, I have noticed marks in the dirt below its hooves, evidence of pawing, stamping, signalling. Look out on the horizon! Something is coming! Something that may change us forever.
What’s it all about, my fellow humans? How will we meet the moment?
Above all, WILL WE BE KIND?
Originally published October 31, 2022 @ karinbardarson.substack.com