Did you see the clowns at Walmart? I wonder if it’s a universal phenomenon, or is it unique to our area? No, I’m not talking about the ridiculous, violent women fighting in the aisles in a recent viral video, although I’m pretty sure everyone shopping at Walmart lately must be experiencing some degree of trepidation, wondering if that phenomenon is unique or will become the norm.
Uncivil behavior seems to be increasing as quickly as our national debt. Whether there is any true correlation remains to be seen. What I have noticed is the absolute nonchalance with which these two ostensibly unconnected phenomena are met by authorities. Some would claim that violence is as American as apple pie; indeed, our very existence came through revolution and the attempted annihilation of our indigenous peoples. Despite our bloody birth, America used to be more polite, more civil. Granted, we have had a blemished history, yet we continue to become better (I pray). Some claim that the evils of our society continue unabated, yet I hope not.
When I was a very young child, segregation, for example, was commonplace. If we went to a public park in Akron, we encountered “separate but equal” drinking fountains and many lunch counters, even in the north, refused to serve black customers. Thank God that has changed, but the nicely printed signs hiding hateful prejudice have been replaced by hate-filled speech, suspicion, and unruly behavior from all fronts. Now, too many people are rude, insensitive, and just plain mean. You can’t even drive down the road without some idiot flipping you the bird for no reason. No one opens doors for anyone, so proud some are NOT to show respect for anyone or anything.
Some individuals seem to think that showing contempt for others makes said individuals superior. Not so. I was raised to believe that everyone deserves respect, and that the way we treat people who cannot advance us, who have no power over us, is the real indicator of our character. I often tried to instill that attitude in my students, many of whom felt entitled and superior due to faulty parenting. After several generations of me-first, aren’t-my-kids-special parenting, our society is collapsing under the weight of large egos (and small hearts).
As bad as some things were in the past, at least (most) people were polite and helpful to others. I see little evidence of this now, except in small pockets of humanity blooming in the rubble of modern life. I retired to West Virginia partially because the people here are like the people from my childhood—honest, decent, hard-working individuals who are polite and kind. Having lived in other states, I know that politeness and kindness are not as ubiquitous elsewhere. People here tend to give others the benefit of the doubt, they let you out in traffic—try that in NYC if you want to die!–and strangers smile and speak, enjoy the day with you.
When we had the Great Derecho several years ago, decency and generosity were in evidence across the state. “Great Derecho” is a word invented to describe a series of tornadoes so violent that massive destruction and death follow inevitably. The winds were so strong that entire trees were ripped from their roots—I mean big trees, with trunks four or five feet in diameter. Power lines and homes destroyed from one end of the state to another. And yet, we were lucky—no one died. We had no power or water for 8 days, during the hottest summer in recent history, but we pitched in.
Two of my neighbors cut down some of my trees that were still up—but barely—and then they cut up the downed trees—I lost 5 that year!–and I gave the logs to another neighbor who heats her home with a wood stove. We all checked on other neighbors’ welfare and shared the load. When I drove to town, I took with me an elderly neighbor whose electric garage door wouldn’t open, so we could both get water and ice. With no power, the only grocery open was the local IGA whose clerks figured our bills by writing down what we bought and added the old-fashioned way—cash only. With red lights out of commission, everyone took turns at intersections and strangers sat together at Shoney’s to share the breakfast buffet. The church up the road from me served a hot meal every day, and even delivered same to those of us unable to reach the church.
No one went hungry. And, no one complained. We were in it together and we survived it together. And that’s why I love it here. In West Virginia. In America.
Now, about those clowns at Walmart. I went to town to pick up some necessities (like doggie chews and beer) and when I got to the frozen food aisle, I felt as if I had fallen down the rabbit hole or, at least, had slipped somehow into the Twilight Zone. Why? The clowns! Several young people in clownish garb—and I do mean what clowns wear, I’m not making fun of someone’s sartorial choices—were roaming around the store, beeping their noses and speaking with innocent shoppers. They were very friendly and happy, as was I—for no other reason than the sun was shining and we were alive! We spoke a bit and laughed a bit and I went on my way. As I rolled through the store, I encountered more clowns, but why? I have no idea. I asked some but they merely laughed softly and said they were just enjoying the day and hoped I was, too. I heard a clerk whisper that they had come from the hospital—entertaining the sick, perhaps.
But I also wondered if the Walmart people had called them in to assuage our fears after the recent video debacle. No one wants to shop in the midst of a brawl. In any case, I’ve decided, it doesn’t matter. It was an unusual event, but noteworthy for its joy and innocence. We don’t see nearly enough of either of those qualities anymore. I’m glad I live here. At least, I was, up until that hornet stung me on my front porch! But that’s another story…