Opinion: Left of Center


“Fall Reflections”

By Jean Hastings Ardell

Growing up back East it was a semi-annual ritual – fall and spring cleaning, a weeding out of closets, drawers, and cabinets, and the putting away the previous season’s clothing. I still can’t help myself from doing this, though my husband sees no logic to it in our warm climate. Years into our marriage he was amazed to learn that my white clothes and shoes could not be worn between Labor Day and Memorial Day. “With everything going on in the world you really think about stuff like that?” he demanded. I explained that while I had rid myself of many of the New York habits of my youth (making fun of beleaguered Brooklyn Dodger fans; arguing baseball and politics with strangers on the subway, being a liberal Republican) I still clung to the tradition of no white clothes after Labor Day.

During these spring and fall rituals, my mother liked to point out that it was also a good time to clear out one’s head. Good advice, I think, and I’ve been trying to follow it during this strange October as we tentatively emerge from the cocoon of the COVID-19 constraints only to find many people angry in some undefinable way. On the committees and groups I’m involved with some of us seem disgruntled, though inarticulate as to just why. It’s become so easy to just be negative. One acquaintance, a long-time church member, resigned in frustration over his perception that the pastor was being political. I know of someone who is recovering from a road rage incident. Some of my young family members who work with the public talk of being yelled at or cursed by impatient customers.

My response has been to pull in, avoiding the negativity whenever I can. I removed the bumper stickers from my car. There were three: “86/45,” a cryptic call to kick out our previous president; “I got vaccinated;” and an Orange County Democrats logo. The thought being that I didn’t want to get shot on the freeway because I got the vaccine or vote Democratic. I had turned off CNN some time ago. It happened as I was walking down the stairs and heard the music leading into the next segment of news. It was downright ominous, and I suddenly realized its 24/7 newscasts were fostering anxiety. The verbiage from some of the right-wing websites I’ve visited in the course of research is chilling. Of course, there’s a term for this: affective polarization. It’s a fairly new phrase, and it refers to the shift from disagreement over the issues to active dislike toward those on the other side of the issue. As one writer friend put it, “We never disagree on policies anymore, we just hate each other.”

“What can we do about It?” someone asked me recently. The question made me wistful for my New York days, when most every October was consumed with baseball debates, there being three teams in town – the Dodgers, Giants, and Yankees, who were perennial contenders for the World Series. Maybe that’s why I’ve avoided the news this month and followed the playoffs, which have produced some memorable moments already: a walk-off home run by unsung hero Chris Taylor of the Dodgers to send the team into a matchup with the San Francisco Giants for the National League Division Series. Monday night the Dodgers’ ace pitcher Max Schuerzer was literally blown off the pitching rubber Monday, later followed by a sure-fire home run hit by the Dodgers’ Gavin Lux that the wind blew into a Giants glove. In baseball, as in politics, anything can happen.

But you can’t hide out in baseball forever, and the question returns to mind, What can we do about the animosity that has seeped into so much of our daily lives? Perhaps the key word is “daily.” As in the day each of us are given, one at a time. Each day people come into our lives – those we pass on our walks with the dog, those who wait upon us at the cafes and restaurants we enjoy, the people we work with. Each of them has a story that we don’t know. The pandemic has slowed us down some. That’s a good thing. We could begin by taking time to listen to one another’s stories. After years of teaching others to write their life stories I’m taking my own advice and working on my own family history. All those memories floating around in my mind are going onto paper now. My mother was right: Fall’s a good time for clearing one’s head.

Jean is a Laguna Beach resident and member of the Third Street Writers.

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