There is a little path near my office that borders a bit of wetland and forest. I walk that path every day on my break. I like to look at the trees, the murky water, and the ducks that show up in the warmer months. It’s a little bit of nature in the heart of my city.
Along this path is an informative sign with information about wetland areas, the animals that live in them, and why they’re important. These signs are everywhere and they strike me as among the most earnest things anyone ever thought to make. Hey, the signs seem to say, here’s some interesting stuff that the people who made me think is pretty cool. Maybe you’ll think it’s pretty cool, too.
The day after the election, a person defaced this sign. He or she (but probably he) crudely painted the name TRUMP across the sign in blackish paint. The block letters made it impossible to read the text beneath. The sign was ruined and the message was clear. The hour of things that are green and good is over. Make way for the bulldozer and the destroyer.
I’ve looked at those crude letters every day since then, because I still like to walk that little path. Each time I passed the sign, I felt anger and frustration. The sign was ruined and would have to be replaced by the city at some point, but let’s be honest; even earnest little signs are not exactly top priorities for most municipalities.
Today, I noticed something had changed. The paint the vandal used had started to flake off, perhaps in the rain. The damage was not as permanent as I had imagined. The vandalism could be cleaned.
Later, I returned to the sign with my wife and together, we started to scrape off the rest of the paint, carefully so as to not damage the text underneath.
Soon enough, the sign was restored, with only the faintest outline of dirt and grime where the vandalism once was. In time, even that outline will be gone (perhaps sooner, as we’re planning on coming back with a bucket and some soap to see if we can finish the job next week).
Either way, the earnest little sign about wetlands has been restored and TRUMP is little more than a faint, dirty outline, visible only in contrast.
I’m writing this not because I want to brag about what we did. This is, quite literally, a token act. Other people are doing more, risking more, and will achieve more. In the grand scheme of things, one restored sign will not change much of anything.
Yesterday, there was something ugly there. An hateful word, a taunt, a mockery.
Today, it is gone.
It is worth remembering. Damage can be repaired. Wounds can be healed. A little sign about wetlands can be cleaned up.
My reverence for nature and the natural world comes from many of its qualities, but foremost of those is its ability to heal and recover from the harm inflicted on it.
A lot is going to happen that is ugly and painful and destructive, but for all that the new president will talk about erasing the legacy of his predecessor, his is written in cheap paint; filth that can and will be scraped away when he is gone.
Cleaning up a vandalized sign is a small thing.
And it is everything.