“You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
In the days of old, across this great land of ours there were these wonderful places called video rental stores. These wondrous locations popped up seemingly overnight in shopping centers, strip malls, and stand-alone buildings. The largest went by such names as Hollywood Video, Movie Gallery, Family Video and the granddaddy of them all, Blockbuster… but there were almost as many small, independently owned stores that offered the same service. All you needed was a membership card and some cash and you were granted the freedom to take home all forms of entertainment to enjoy in the comfort and privacy of your home.
Comedy, drama, adventure, cartoons, science fiction and fantasy, mystery… all these and more categories of movies on videotape for your pleasure. (Plus, a few outlets offered behind-the-curtain titles for… ahem… a mature audience.) No matter your selection, that tape likely featured a brightly colored sticker with a simple request to rewind the tape before returning it to the store.
Yes, boys and girls, there really was such archaic technology as movies on magnetic tape in plastic cases. If the previous user failed to rewind the tape to the beginning, you could easily find yourself forced to wait an extra few minutes until your machine performed that service for you. Smart stores invested in countertop devices called rewinders, and employees would often need to pop the tape into that machine before returning it to the shelf for the next customer.
As annoying as that sticker’s admonition was to some, it really didn’t take much effort to provide that simple act of kindness. But, perhaps not surprisingly, each store’s staff could predict which tapes would come back in need of that rewinder… because certain customers just couldn’t be bothered with even that little courtesy. Was that a harbinger of things to come? Perhaps.
The battle continues
The United States continues to wrestle with a pandemic that has a death toll climbing into six figures. With over 40 million Americans unemployed as a result of COVID-19 and many businesses either permanently closed or on the verge, the economic impact is horrendous. Naturally, when faced with a combination of medical uncertainty and loss of income, people all across the nation are doing the best they can to hold their lives together. But, also naturally, many of us are struggling to keep our emotions under control.
As if we weren’t dealing with enough, an African American man named George Floyd died of asphyxiation on a Minneapolis city street in police custody, four officers applying what appeared to be significant pressure on his throat and upper torso. Video of the event circulated around the world, leading to immediate calls for the arrest of the officers. (At this writing, one officer is facing homicide charges and others may follow.)
It should come as no surprise that cities large and small quickly became the scene of protests as people of all races gathered to condemn the incident, calling for swift justice. Unfortunately, as will happen with any large gathering – whether a protest or a celebration – many bad actors saw an opportunity to wreak havoc. Buildings and vehicles were damaged, fires were started, looters targeted abandoned stores, and violent clashes with police flared. If you looked closely, though, it has been clear that those intent on disorder are a small percentage of the whole, but the actions of the few make it seem as if all are bent on destruction. Keep that in mind.
We’re not all bad
You might be looking at these unfolding events with a mixture of disgust and dismay, and there’s nothing wrong with those feelings. But I hope that you are strong enough to keep everything in proper context. Yes, four police officers are connected to the death of Mr. Floyd. But you can’t come away from that incident and say that all police are equally to blame. Far from it. In fact, I’ve seen many moments during these protests where officers and demonstrators have together taken a knee, offering prayers and peaceful conversation.
In the same way, don’t allow yourself to be conned by those who want to use this moment as a way to further divide us on racial grounds. We’re bombarded by politicians, TV and radio talkers, and Facebook posts from your crazy uncle… all trying to make us hate one another. Trying to draw us into believing phony stereotypes.
Be the one who rewinds.
Our nation is in pain. We are afraid of a virus, afraid of our financial future, afraid of violence in our streets. But if we remain strong and smart, we will come through all of this. And we will be better.
Be kind. Be respectful. Be patient. And choose leaders who would do the same.
“Evil begins when you begin to treat people as things.”― Terry Pratchett
(Originally published in the June 4, 2020 edition of the Morrisons Cove Herald.)