Dreary. The only word to adequately describe the scene outside my car window last week as I waited, somewhat patiently, at a red light on a busy city street. An evocative word, possessing an uncanny power to ooze and drip its two grey syllables into every atom of the atmosphere, permeating each and draping the collection like a shroud over every steely inch of pavement, every brave spring flower. As I peered out from inside the relative comfort of my car, I spied three people on the corner, huddled together in the misty rain. A well-dressed trio, with intelligent faces, and sincere expressions; each one holding up a homemade sign decrying one of the more egregious decisions recently made by the governor of our state. As so happens, this particular traffic light has a deserved reputation for sluggishness so I had ample time to consider these three as they stoically stood on the corner. The light turned green and I moved on but found their dignified visages remained in my mind throughout the rest of the day.
Like many people, I feel strongly about a wide range of issues that vary in their level of importance. I believe in treating other people the way I’d like to be treated. I believe our slavish devotion to money coupled with our hobbling terror of change prevents us from dealing effectively with the changing climate and I believe we shall all regret this. I believe health care is a right, not a privilege. I believe our country’s love of guns is ludicrous and shameful. I believe that every effort should always be made to prevent the cutting down of tall trees and the razing of historic architecture. I believe Walmart destroys communities. I believe people should adopt dogs and children. I believe teachers should be the highest paid members of society. I believe the book is always better than the movie, fox hunting is cruel, and stilettos are bad for the feet. But am I on a street corner holding up a sign? No, it is true; I am not.
Like the waters of Corryvreckan, these thoughts swam round and round my head all afternoon, reaching no port of conclusion. My beliefs were strong, but did I lack the appropriate passion? Was I apathetic? Oh God, was I cynical? Was it that I didn’t believe the type of action I’d witnessed would ever bring about change? Truth be told, I seriously doubt those three people at the traffic light realistically thought our illustrious governor might perhaps drive by their corner, spot these signs, and be racked with a sudden repentance. No, I rather think it was sheer ardor that put them there; an ardor that, apparently, I seemed to lack. I thought back to the brave people of the sixties, whose heckled marches and homemade signs had indeed, eventually, brought change. Would I have been one of those revered individuals? Are the injustices and dangers of today any less great?
At the end of the day, I turned my car towards home, still pondering these thoughts. As I drove along the street leading to my own I saw up ahead on the side of the road a man dressed in the unmistakable clothes of the eccentric. Obviously obtained from a costume rental agency, his garb was made up of red and white striped waistcoat and trousers, fire-red tail coat, and an impressively tall, consistently red, top hat. His grin was as wide as his confidence was deep and he was holding up an enormous sign that read, “Jesus Loves You”.
Now everyone knows the best way to deal with these sorts of pavement people is to refrain at all costs from making eye contact. But this day I chose to look at this chap straight on. He grinned at me broadly, waved his sign vigorously, then nodded. And somehow, in spite of myself and my doubts, despite my concern that the fires of my passion were too cool to be effective, in spite of it all, I felt better.