ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Her neighborhood sits in a sweet, green spot between Old Town and Downtown, a lush swath of aged elms and old homes where people still take walks and children still ride bikes in the streets.
I was one of those children many years ago, I tell her. Her neighborhood, blocks away from where I grew up, felt safe and pretty and friendly then.
It still is, she says.
“I’ve been here for 23 years,” she says. “I know most of my neighbors. I’ve never had a problem.”
That’s the day she received a letter, stamped, postmarked and addressed to “OCCUPANT RESIDENT” in big black-inked, upper-cased scrawls that shattered her feeling of safety in that pretty and friendly neighborhood.
Inside was a note in that same black-inked, upper-cased handwriting, as if the person who sent it were yelling at her.
Most of the letter can’t be published in a family newspaper. But you can fill in the blanks.
“TAKE YOUR SIGN AND SHOVE IT UP YOUR … YOU LIB PIECE OF … . GET USE TO THE REPUBLICANS THEY’LL BE IN 12 YRS YOU STUPID … .”
It shook her – enough that she wanted only to be identified in this column as Patsy.
But it didn’t shake her for long.
“And then I wondered what happened that made that person so broken to do such stupid stuff,” she said.
That the anonymous writer would be driven to such heights of rage that he or she would go to the trouble of mailing a grammatically – and civility – challenged diatribe was troubling enough.
But over a sign? Over that sign?
You’ve probably seen signs like Patsy’s around town, the words meant to evoke acceptance and kindness by listing what the people living there believe: No human is illegal. Love is love. Science is real. Women’s rights are human rights. Black lives matter. Water is life. And kindness is everything.
Patsy said one of her daughter’s friends made it for her. In Albuquerque, similar signs are available through the Center for Peace and Justice, but they’ve also been available through various groups nationwide since several women in Wisconsin came up with the idea after the 2016 election when it seemed that kindness was in short supply.
It seems in even shorter supply now. On the same day the letter arrived, owners of the India Palace in Santa Fe discovered that their restaurant had been vandalized, racist words of hate spray-painted across its tattered interior.
During online services last Saturday morning, members of Congregation B’nai Israel in Albuquerque were “Zoom bombed” by a barrage of anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi audio, video and chat messages by an anonymous source that had infiltrated the temple’s Zoom channel.
In Nob Hill, a woman – who, coincidentally, also displays the “Kindness Is Everything” poster in her front yard – wrote “Black Lives Matter” in chalk on her driveway only to find that someone had scratched out the word “Black” and replaced it with “white.”
“Isn’t that mean?” she asked. “I’ve never experienced anything like that in this house.”
Across the country, we’ve seen the protests, the riots, the violent attacks on people and property, including in Albuquerque, where a protester was shot June 15 when a demonstration seeking the removal of a bronze statute of Juan de Oñate turned violent.
We have become such a polarized nation, sick with anger and stress under a raging pandemic, a tanking economy and a political season that promises to get dirtier.
Patsy never imagined her sign would contribute to the discord.
“I can’t understand why this person thought I was liberal,” she said. “If anything, this sign is Christian.”
Which, in a time when wearing a mask is grounds for a civil rights battle, is also polarizing.
Patsy and her husband reported the hate mail to Albuquerque police, and the case remains under investigation. Friends and family have urged Patsy to take down the sign. And she almost did.
“But I thought, why should I? It’s what I believe in,” she said. “If you have kindness in your heart, nobody can hurt you.”
It’s nice to think so.
As she likes to tell her grandchildren, you cannot control others but you can control yourself, and if you do that with kindness it comes back to you, eventually.
“I try to be as kind as I can to anybody,” she said. “I try not to show hate. I would not have shown hate to this person had they just wanted to talk about my sign.”
Patsy said she resolves to remain focused on the good in her life – her family, her friends, the beauty of a summer day, the moments she sits on her balcony and watches children wheel by on their bikes in her safe and pretty and friendly neighborhood.
“It’s easier to be kind than to hate,” she said. “Life is beautiful if you can see through the hate.”
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793, firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook or @jolinegkg on Twitter.