Bully in the Playground

In a recent post I argued that the current divisiveness in American life has robbed many of us of the meaning and community we used to find in parts of our world not in themselves political. Everything is now political. I have a relative with whom I have long been on excellent terms, even though we have always belonged to opposing political parties. We are both Catholics, and though I always suspected we had some hidden religious differences, they never entered our conversation or affected our relationship. But suddenly we cannot even accept the same person as pope. The official one, according to my friend’s recent way of thinking, is a charlatan; Benedict remains the real pope though Benedict himself would dispute that. In any event neither my friend nor I will be doing very well this Lent loving our enemies.

Certain segments of my own world remain essentially separate from the political, though they are affected by it and, as I see it, my religion is one of them. Another, not nearly so sacred, is South Ardmore Park, which is close enough to where I live that I can walk there. I visit the park on days when life is getting to me. Once I walk the circle that surrounds it, then go sit on my favorite park bench for 20 minutes or so, I almost always feel a whole lot better. The enormously tall trees, which look as ancient as South Ardmore Park itself, lift me out of the day’s routine into a larger place where I can think more clearly. Mothers take their children to the park but lots of dads, day nurses and grandparents do so also. Soon the local high school will start playing its summer baseball games on a field that, judging by the fence behind home plate, must have been there long before I moved into the neighborhood.

Politics seems to have entered South Ardmore Park only by way of yearly township budget discussions. But our township must have long ago realized that the park is essentially separate from politics because, despite its age, the board members still keep it up so well. Whatever their political affiliations, they must sense how special a place it is for local citizens–a place as American as Ben Franklin’s Free Libraries.

I also visit the park so regularly to think about how long our current divisiveness will last. Will we continue screaming at each other indefinitely? I like to think not if only because the divisiveness isn’t getting us anywhere. Just the opposite, in fact. Think of the nightly news: hit and run drivers are now commonplace; children die as byproducts of adult gun violence; schools, churches and synagogues are shot up routinely; “deaths of despair” like suicide and overdoses of addictive substances like fetanyl remain on the rise.

The image of a bully comes to me as I sit in South Ardmore Park: I “see” him standing in the middle of this special, essentially non-political space spewing out the kind of endless mockery and abuse that implicitly sanction the above brutalities. If we could stop putting up with, even getting a kick out of, that unfunny bullying, maybe we could help minimize the divisiveness and begin to be grown-ups again.