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Life Here: The Valley is beautiful, except for this symbol

  • Deb Beaupre. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



For the Valley News
Friday, May 24, 2019

I love the landscape here. I do. It is so beautiful and especially at this time of the year. There are so many shades of greening going on, the commute to work is breathtaking.

When my son was holed up in an office in Philadelphia a few years ago, I would take photographs of the same places each day to show him the wondrous beauty in hay fields near our home. He would respond with, “Dang, that is pretty.”

Still, I am thinking about leaving here.

I’m thinking about this for a couple reasons.

I am a city girl.

I miss walking everywhere and seeing new and interesting things in my pedestrian travels. I miss new restaurants popping up where last month was an art gallery or a book store. And man, do I miss bookstores, the ones where you walk in and music is playing and no one is talking because everyone is reading intently and there are so many sections to explore before your train leaves.

I miss taking the train and losing myself in a chance purchase from a bargain bin until my stop and not having to remember to fill my tank.

I miss the strange, unexpected lives I was introduced to in conversations on public transportation; normal looking people who are a little bit crazy, truly crazy people who are amazing performers, unassuming people who turn out to be famous.

I am also thinking about leaving because once in a while — just every so often — something happens here that gives me pause and makes me feel uneasy.

Such as: I was driving home today from work, inhaling deeply and gazing at one of the many large fields whose growth I monitor and I saw a Confederate flag just setting there in the middle.

Nothing else was there and I had not noticed it before.

Kinda knocked me for six. Totally ruined my-driving-home-on-a-spring-day-it-didn’t-snow-today-in-May vibe in one quick glance.

I wondered about that for a few moments. What was the significance of that flag being there, what did it symbolize for the owner, what message was the person trying to transmit? People put all sorts of things in large open fields to declare things about themselves; crosses, signs, decorations. But this particular item has a particular meaning for so many Americans, I think a lot of us associate it with one thing: race.

And here we go — talking about it again. Why does it keep coming up when we are just trying to go on about our business?

Because, dear one, that is what racism is, that is what racism does. It pops up wherever and whenever it chooses. Did you think that driving that eco-saving car in the thrift-shopped clothes drinking fair trade coffee was going to make you safe from racism?

Wrong.

Nothing will make you safer, so I am not going to construct a series of pretty, alliterative sentences to create images of despair about how unsafe I am. It is so not going to make you safer that I bet you a dollar if Barack Obama was left alone in a city with no Secret Service detail, wearing just sweats and a T-shirt, even he would still have trouble catching a cab.

Was there a mob of villagers chasing after me once I passed that field? No, but I do feel less sure that people accept me as a human who should be here, who has feelings, needs, rights and personhood. Back in slavery days, none of that was the case, which is why when I see one of those flags I want to run as far away as possible, despite knowing that Juneteenth will be celebrated in a month.

Funnily enough, I was never afraid I would get mugged or jumped or attacked when I lived in the city, but incidents like this flag sighting terrify me because I am afraid of what will happen if my car breaks down on that road. That is not mere hyperbole, because last presidential election, my car went off the road on a hill with a certain candidate’s name all up and down the lawns. Despite the fact that I was obviously alone and needed help at least a dozen drivers looked me in the eye and drove right past. Finally, a load of good-natured skiers from Connecticut piled out to push me back to safety.

I wish I were as brave as my brother, who has, on occasion, asked people flying the flag about it and engaged in conversation. He’s also huge, with Rambo muscles, so I am not sure he gets the truth, but he tries for it. He really wants to know. I don’t.

I don’t want to hear from people who plan to hate me without even meeting me, whatever the reason. I happen to be an interesting person to know.

Which is why, despite passing one breathtaking view after another as I drive to work, I think, that in a crowd, in a city bustling with people from all over the world like the one I am from, I would feel

safer, even if I were to encounter a Dixie flag. It would not have anywhere near as much power to scare me in a crowd of people who look like me, who refuse to give it power, who are too busy coaching, collaborating, cohabiting or coding with people who are different from them to sustain bias against them.

Thus, alas, I think I might have to give the overcrowded, overpriced city another shot soon. I miss coffee shops with sitar music and yoga studios that moonlight as poetry slam venues, takeout places that don’t hang up when you give your address and just being part of the crayon box adding texture to the “skin tone section.”

It will be nice to blend in, read a book, have a coffee and just be.

Dang, that will be pretty.

Deb Beaupre lives in Meriden.