It was the horses I always remembered because when she spoke of them a shine came into her eyes, the kind of shine one gets when looking upon something so magnificent it literally brings tears to your eyes. And it was the horses, in all their majestic beauty, that was my first lesson in hate.
"So many in town hated my family for those horses," she would whisper to me as if it were such a deep and horrible secret that she didn't dare speak it aloud. And of course I felt the first stirrings of hate in my own belly as she described the injustice of having such creatures and not being able to openly enjoy them without drawing forth envy from those who resented "us" for our good fortune.
I learned these same people, one family in particular, lead the hate. "It was over politics," she would whisper as the sheer filth of that word fell from her lips. Politics. The ultimate bad guy in all her stories. It went hand in hand with hate because you couldn't have politics without hate. "They hated us for not believing what they believed, but our family was unshakable. We believed what we believed and that was it." I felt the passion of that injustice in my stomach and swore always to believe what I believed and I felt angry at these mean people who would deny me and my family that right.
Next came the real killer: religion. I come from a long line of Atheists mixed with a few religious fanatics. My family has straddled the religion fence decade after decade with a sort of blind faith that they will end up on the side that isn't lined up against the wall and shot, so it didn't surprise me that some hated them for their faith or lack of it. Why should the inner workings of my family be any different than the outer workings?
"The bastard hated us because we didn't believe in his Jesus." I felt her anger, her despair and I became ferociously Atheistic. I hated the family who judged us, the father and his son who stopped my family on the street and spit at my family and called them heathens. I could see him whenever she told this story: his hair black as his soul, his cold eyes, his crude language that no gentleman would be caught speaking. By the time I was in my teens I hated him with a passion so deep that I was certain if he was in the room with me, I could easily hurt him and feel no remorse. That is the power of hate, that is what it can convince you to to do: hurt a stranger because he did something to someone else you also never met.
But the worst part of this story was the horrible ending. "They came in the night," she told me with tears in her eyes. "First they poisoned the horses..." We always stopped to cry together at this part of the story. I loved horses as a young girl and this was a crime too horrible to ever forgive. I could see their eyes close in death as they suffered from the poison. I hated this horrible horrible man and his family and all his relatives and all the children he would bring into the world.
And then they came back and burned down the house and tore up the flower gardens and destroyed a decades old garden of medicinal herbs the town depended upon for healing. "We left and never returned," she said with that perfect note of despair that has left me feeling my entire life as if I were a homeless refugee, a displaced Atheist waiting for the first hail of bullets to strike me down for my terrible crimes of not believing in Jesus, of having politics that differed from the most powerful man in town and his evil son, and just being hated for no reason other than for who I was. The injustice of it was so strong, so much a part of how I grew up and why I became the adult I am.
My grandmother is long dead and it wasn't until I was in my twenties that I found out the truth about this family, this horrible man and his even worse son. Yes, they did all that. Yes, they were bad people. Yes, they caused my family endless and unjust suffering. I also found out they died at least a hundred years if not more before my grandmother was born. None of the bad things they did was done to her or to me or to anyone who was alive. They were long dead, but yet they lived on in this perverse way.
My grandmother was only repeating what was told to her. She gave me the only legacy she had left, the memory of an injustice committed on our family long before any of us were born. She gave me hate instead of love. It is a gift that I decided needed to die with me. I do not want to know more about this man and his son. I do not want revenge as a dish best served cold. I want him to die with the all the stories, all the unforgiven wrongs, all the hate he spread far into the future.
It ends with me. And what begins with me is a sense of peace, a feeling of moving forward in time instead of backwards, a reworking of hatred so it becomes love, a reworking of intolerance so it becomes acceptance, and a reworking of eternal and perpetual war so it finally, at last, becomes peace. It begins with me.
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