To the Antigo Journal:

 I had lived in Israel for the better part of a year. One day I decided to rent a car and drive around the West Bank. I ended up lost near Hebron. I asked a young Arab boy for directions, but his English was very limited, so I followed him to a teacher's house in the village. This man invited me into his very small home for tea before giving me directions. 

Sitting on an Afghan covered couch, I couldn't help but notice a picture hanging prominently on the living room wall of a beautiful young Arab woman, lying dead in a pool of blood on a lush green field. It was a disturbing picture. When the Arab teacher came back with the tea, I asked him about the picture, which was not a photo but a painting. With a strange smile on his face, he said, "Israeli soldiers killed her!"  

This experience imprinted me with the severity of the walls mankind will build between themselves and others to continue to believe their narrative. How could this Arab teacher ever begin to see Israelis as anything other than killers with this graphic picture staring at him daily, reminding him of the pain caused by the other side. Having lived in Israel as well as becoming friends with both Palestinians and Jews, I saw that both sides had valid points in their struggle with one another. Some chose to “hang more pictures” while others wrestled with hearing the other side. 

That brings me to today. We have been facing a terrible crisis. And though crisis often brings people together, this epidemic  is being exploited by some to increase division in our country.

Instead of trying to come together to fight this awful virus and save lives, too many of us are like that Arab teacher, hanging remembrances of all that divides us on the wall of our and hearts and minds, giving us justification to malign and even hate those who are different from us or hold a different view. 

Today, the difference is how we perceive and handle COVID-19. Safe at home or open all businesses. Wear a mask or don’t. Socially distance or congregate in groups. We are all entitled to different opinions.  But why does anyone have to resort to name calling and ugly behavior that demeans those who hold a different point of view?  

Why resort to calling our governor a tyrant? I listen to his press reports and he comes across as caring and trying to protect our state. I see those protesting stay at home measures, spitting in policemen’s faces, often angrily shouting at others, touting assault rifles, some carrying confederate flags, a symbol of slavery.  

This weekend in New York, a reporter who was just videoing a protest was cursed at, given the finger, had crude things shouted at him, and when he asked them to maintain six feet of distance, they pushed even closer. 

Nurses who have been caring for covid patients, have silently stood amongst protestors as their own form of protest, only to be spat on, called filthy names, and lied to by the protestors about fictitious victims. One of these nurses stated that if any of the protestors got infected, she and her fellow nurses would welcome them in their hospital. The contrast was striking! 

And why is it necessary to call it the China or Chinese virus, opening up people of Asian descent to persecution? I personally know of children of Asian ethnicity in our community getting bullied since the virus broke out. 

Our President may resort to name calling, but do we have to?  We can choose to be better. We can choose to put our views out into the world without becoming mean spirited. We don’t have to hang pictures that remind us of our differences every day and keep us riled up against others.

The question is, what kind of community will we choose to be? Better yet, what kind of person do I want to be?

David Zalewski