I saw an inspirational bumper sticker while I was driving on I-95, listening to Leonard Bernstein conducting the 1812 Overture (back when he was alive, of course). That piece always raises my blood pressure, especially when the cannons start firing. It’s perfect music for a barroom brawl or a debate on the floor of Congress.
Suddenly, like a bat outta hell, a BMW came up behind me and cut me off, and I swerved onto the shoulder. In the contrail of dust, I read his bumper sticker, which had the comforting slogan, “COEXIST.”
You’ve probably seen those bumper stickers, written in letters formed out of religious symbols that include the Star of David, a cross and a crescent moon, along with the peace sign and the yin-yang. Slogans that promote brotherly and sisterly love always inspire me to break out in song, especially when I’m being forced off the road: “C’mon people, smile on your brother, everybody get together, try to love one another right now!”
I don’t think the guy understood the meaning of “coexist,” but I didn’t take his affront personally because he then proceeded to cut off two other cars, and he didn’t care if they were Christians, Muslims or Jews. Idealists can be nasty people. Stalin and Mao loved slogans, too.
My daughters plastered the same bumper sticker on my father’s old van when I gave it to them, along with other bumper stickers with quotes from Gandhi, the Dalai Lama and Thomas Jefferson, or maybe it was Richard Nixon. I’ve always believed the most profound words of wisdom, from Deepak to Tupac, can be found on bumper stickers. They’re easier to understand than Plato or IRS regulations.
Just as I was regaining my composure on I-95, a Greyhound bus barreled up the entrance ramp and pushed me out of my lane. I guess no one ever told that lunatic we’re supposed to coexist. There’s more death-defying adventures on I-95 than in a James Bond movie. At times like this, I get frustrated and don’t want to coexist. I want to retaliate.
The sad truth is we live in an angry society that pulls people apart, largely because we place ideologies — personal, political and religious — ahead of people. There’s no denying that political disagreements often provoke the most vicious anger. If we suspended political activity for a year, this country would become as joyful as Utopia, Nirvana and Amazon on Black Friday.
Many of us have trouble coexisting in our families, our marriages, our communities, our workplaces and our world because we want other people to think like us rather than tolerate differences of opinion. I even have trouble watching the news because it reminds me the world is fueled by antagonism, disagreements and lawsuits.
During the Cold War, the possibility of nuclear destruction hung over our heads because of the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World leaders said our goal was “peaceful coexistence.” The truth is we didn’t really want to get along, we just didn’t want the bombs to start falling. Even though we were allegedly committed to peaceful coexistence, that didn’t stop anyone from trying to drive the other guy off the road, as it were.
But our future is grim if we can’t do any better than merely “coexisting,” which is setting the bar awfully low.
I once heard a fellow who was in Alcoholics Anonymous complain about another guy who was obnoxious and adversarial. He wanted to punch his lights out, but said his program of recovery wouldn’t approve of that approach.
“Well,” I asked, “what would they suggest?” He paused and said, “I don’t have to like him … but I have to love him.” I immediately thought of Tina Turner and asked, “What’s love got to do with it?”
“Everything,” he replied.
OK, so where’s that BMW driver? I want to give him a big hug … when the cannons stop exploding.
You can reach Joe Pisani at firstname.lastname@example.org.