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Clippings: Which wolf will you feed, America?

You should have seen the graffiti that greeted Havurah worshippers and supporters this past Saturday. Scrawled all over the sidewalk leading up to the porch of the home of the Jewish Congregation of Addison County were statements like “Blessed are the peacemakers,” “We love you,” and “Love trumps hate’ all up and down the sidewalk.
Last week, when I learned that someone had scrawled two swastikas on Havurah’s front door and someone on campus had written “F*** Muslims, #Trump2016” on a whiteboard outside the dorm room of two Muslim students, I first felt like I’d been kicked in the gut, then I felt like I was in freefall.
All this in Middlebury?
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wisely cautioned in his “12-Step Program for Responding to President-Elect Trump” to “avoid Hitler metaphors, recognizing that they stop conversations and rarely persuade.”
True.
But where else can you go with that particular symbol? Especially having just found myself, this past summer, in the Paris Shoah Memorial staring through the glass display case at a discarded can of Zyclon B?
Hate kills.
Feeling helpless to respond to either of these two hateful actions, I emailed my pastor, who told me area clergy would be attending the Saturday service. So I came to support my friends and neighbors. But what I got was something else entirely.
I came feeling frozen and sad; I left feeling hopeful and purposeful. I came feeling isolated and fearful; I left feeling strong because our community is strong. I came feeling rage and anger; I left in joy. I came with an empty cup; and when I left my cup ran over.
See, since the election, I’ve just gone numb. The night of the election my 17-year-old daughter was so upset she was crying. She keeps wanting to talk to me about the election and, huge failure as a parent, I can’t seem to talk or listen because I haven’t been able to process events myself. What’s happening to America?
I get the anger about the economy. I get the anger about Obamacare — only in so far as I don’t like being required to buy into the insurance racket and support greedy corporations. I get the free-floating sense that opportunities are closing down. Heck, I agree that we need change. And I embrace the idea that disagreement is the lifeblood of democracy.
But I just don’t get the xenophobia. I don’t get the racism. I don’t get that it’s OK to put your hands and your mouth all over women’s bodies unasked and undesired and brag about it. I don’t get that it’s OK to bully.
And most of all I really, really, really don’t get voting for someone who has demonstrated a callous and calculating disregard for truth. Given the warmest Arctic fall on record, what happens to polar bears and the planet in a White House that seems likelier to embrace a Reality TV spin on things than to embrace science?
Did something happen to America when those planes hit the Twin Towers? Are fear and anger the only things driving us now?
Last Saturday at Havurah, the service was so crowded, organizers moved it to a larger room — and it still was standing room only. I squeezed into a folding chair against the wall.
Up in front was a giant heart made of Post-It notes created by Hebrew School students ages seven to 14. The tags said everything from “Stand up for what you believe in” to “If you have not read ‘Harry Potter’ read it! Happiness!” to “Peace, shalom” to “Awesome sauce.” All around the heart read: “Be the change you want to be in the world.” One speaker contrasted the power of the giant heart with what had been scribbled on the front door.
So maybe love, not the gooey kind but the roll-up-your-sleeves kind, is stronger than hate after all.
Welcomed at a service where I was the outsider, welcomed where I was the one who was different, welcomed where I was the one from an “other” tradition, we sang, we recited psalms, we heard scripture, we prayed. And together we thought about justice, and the guest rabbi leading the service reminded us that love-for-your-neighbor love, love-for-the-world love isn’t about feelings, it’s about action. As the ice around my heart thawed and I felt I could breathe again for the first time in 11 days, I hoped I’d be better able to talk with my daughter and listen to her concerns about the crazy world we are handing her generation.
Included in some of the reflections was the hope that the person who had acted in hate and defaced the building, thought with a considerable degree of compassion to be a teenager or other young person “testing the limits,” could find a constructive rather than destructive way to act on his or her values and voice his or her concerns.
Well-known Middlebury pediatrician Jack Mayer offered up a Native American parable that seems important to all Americans as we all look to our words and actions over the next four years.
In the parable, a grandfather describes to his grandson a fight going on inside himself between two wolves. One wolf is his destructive feelings — fear, anger, envy, greed, inferiority, superiority, resentment. The other wolf is such feelings as hope, truth, empathy, generosity, kindness, bravery.
“Which one will win?” the boy asks.
To which the grandfather replies, “The one that you feed.”
The one that you feed.
As a nation, we’ve been at our worst before. But we can also be at our best.
So I guess it’s up to each one of us, as we face the next four years — whether excited that your candidate won or dismayed at America’s electoral choice or one who sat this one out. Which wolf will you feed?

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