I like listening to people speak. I had the great pleasure of walking this morning with one of TPW’s delightful members who enjoys the simple greenness of gardens. We walked at a pace just right for looking at trees and shrubs. S. pointed out how you don’t need colourful flowers to make a garden beautiful. And she is so right. The cemetery was at its summer best, and I got to listen to my friend tell me about her life. COVID has made many of us miss this important sound. It is so nice to hear voices other than just those in the media and those of people we live with.
Except sometimes. As we were heading out of the cemetery grounds a bicyclist came from behind us and told us to get “off the f***’n road.” We had not heard his bell and he was not pleased. I think we all could have lived without hearing that voice. But shortly thereafter, another man passed us saying “Pardon me, I am passing on your left.” His politeness felt like a hug after the earlier experience.
The morning was not yet over. As C. and I were returning from coffee, several police cars with their lights flashing were racing north on Yonge Street. One pulled up just past the entrance to the cemetery and another at the gate where a small group of young people was gathered. One young woman was sobbing. She told the officer that a man who had a swastika on his body had yelled “Hey, Jew” at her. She was, in fact, Jewish but did not know how this man had known.
Ugly speech is not illegal in Canada. Hate speech is a very complex, vague and overly broad charge which can only be laid with the consent of the Attorney General. And it never solves any problems. I am Jewish too. It is awful to have a man like this frightening people – any people. My friend C. walked me to my car and told me to be safe. The young woman’s friends were comforting her and expressing their anger about the man who had shouted at her. I believe that kind, warm, and caring gestures, voices, and words mean far more and have a longer lasting effect than ugliness and anger. We can choose how we use our voices. Our TPW friends choose well.