‘You know you’re a renter when’ was the opening a Facebook whine this week. It was the day that I opened the bedroom window and my hand was within an inch of the squirrel’s tail, the squirrel who’s been living in the wall of my house for at least six months.
To be fair the squirrel has kept his presence behind the plaster wall and, until recently, out of view; the mouse last winter was not so kind. To be fair, this is an old townhouse, nearly 100 years old with the charm of original plumbing, wiring and windows. Had the house not settled somewhere along the way, the windows would be a treasure rather than a portal for all things living. I fell in love with the charm of the house and it’s perfect location and signed a two-year lease before I knew that when ‘original’ and ‘settled’ came in the same house so too the wild kingdom. To be fair, I still love the charm and the location and too the ease of being a renter.
Shaken but nested in my home, my Facebook whine wasn’t about the semi-permeable membrane. My finger was about to dial the landlord not my Facebook page when I saw it: the unmistakable shape of the political yard sign. There it was, in the middle of my front yard. Small and seemingly tasteful but I reflexively gagged nonetheless. With two weeks before the election, my sanctuary had been invaded.
The sign of the candidate I blogged against in the primary is now in the center of the lawn where I live. This candidate is one who takes aim on both my personhood (as a lesbian) and my faith (as a Christian). During the primaries he was on talk radio claiming that our current administration threatened his eternal salvation, during a recent debate he claimed that a repeal of the military gag rule is “social engineering”. Publicly proclaiming his narrow definition of Christianity as the only true path and vowing to protect America from the scourge of people like me marrying our partners, the candidate’s sign does feel menacing. Having publicly derided both my faith and my personhood, the presence of this candidate’s banner is a ratcheting of the debate I would rather not have.
In the realm of finding serenity to accept what can’t be changed and courage to change what can, I’m not sure where America’s divisive politics land and I am praying for wisdom.
What is clear to me is that the squirrel invasion hits my soul in a place not unlike where the yard sign landed, an assault. Renters and homeowners alike are vulnerable in this politically charged season. We need more, not fewer, places that are free from vitriol and safe for discourse. But what counts for safety in these charged times? Tragically the one most vulnerable is often expected to toughen up to the debate. Safely ensconced in my own closet for most of my adult life, I was much more articulate as an ally than I am now able to be as an ‘out’ lesbian. As the debate now becomes undeniably personal, about my right to full citizenship inclusive of a right to serve my country and marry my beloved, quite frankly it doesn’t feel very safe.
Truth be told, when I stop my frenetic motion and listen to the quietness in my soul, I find an eerie sense of empathy for the squirrel trying desperately to burrow in for winter. The squirrel’s natural instincts are unquestionably good, a simple quest for survival – and yet I feel threatened. His very presence threatens my sense of safety when my sense of safety rests in a clear delineation between his world and mine. The threat is the breach in a barrier that I assumed was secure.
In the tsunami of the culture wars that are destroying us, we seem to have two choices. We can either garner our scarce resources in the futile effort to shore up the crumbling walls or we can meet each other eye to eye. If we abandon the wall making, we might be surprised by how very much we have in common. We are, after all, children of one God all yearning for the same simple pleasures.
The remaining question… does this same embrace necessitate a welcoming of the squirrel? I think I’ll leave that to the cats.