“I’m off to march in the protest this morning, Mamma,” my daughter said. Sweden’s right wing political party, discredited after senior members were filmed threatening to beat immigrants with a metal pipe, celebrates 25 years today. In response, thousands of people throughout Sweden are organizing themselves to march, amongst them my 14-year-old daughter and her friends. “Maybe I could come along?” I asked wishfully. “That would be weird, Mamma,” my daughter insisted, “I’m going with my friends.” I didn’t want to point out to my daughter that discrimination includes age discrimination, but I let it go. The dog needed to go out, and, heck, everyone is a teenager once.
So, it was that Ellie the dog and I set out for a protest in the park. It wasn’t easy to know how we were going to express our solidarity with the movement against racism in all its forms, but we marched on nevertheless in the faith that we would find something. On Dog Island, Ellie sped like a rocket to meet the other frolicking canines. It is quite a miracle that they all manage together, but they do for the most part, giving one another the slightest little warning every now and again not to overdo it. There were all sorts from the handbag-sized chihuahua that shivered in the snow to the oversized American Staffordshire with the black spot over one eye that made him look like Captain Hook. Ellie quickly sorted out the ones who knew how best to play, and they chased one another like mad hatters until there was nothing to do but collapse with exhaustion in the snow. It didn’t seem like anyone was going to get too upset with anyone else. They were all too exhausted and, besides, they’d learned to hang out with one another by playing. It occurred to me that play is an excellent antidote to fear and suspicion, and that therefore we had successfully managed to deliver the first part of our protest.
A father pushed his toddler frenetically through the park in a covered jogging pram. One had the impression he’d come to Sweden from a warmer country. Through the transparent plastic sheet pulled over the forward-facing pram one saw the smiling face of a child peaking out of winter insulation that barely allowed it to move. One could react to this scene critically: What did this man think he was doing with his child? Surely it needed movement and fresh air. Child abuse! Another way was to laugh and consider that daddy had perhaps overdone the winter protection a bit today. Perhaps somewhere in the receptacles of his memory were the blinding sandstorms of his native home? Best to protect one’s child’s eyes. Acts of love are rarely logical. As he pushed the cumbersome jogging pram up the hill, the other youngsters sped down it wide-eyed in sleds. One had to laugh and feel for this well-meaning daddy. He’d work it all out in time. How silly it was to pass judgement on him. It occurred to me that our protest had taken another step forward with humor and the empathetic light that it bestows upon any situation. True humor requires that we laugh at our own perceptions as well as at the objects of them.
It was one of those days when all looked bare; pared down to its very minimum in the grey with the leafless branches. It wasn’t one of those days when I could find richness everywhere by just looking. When those days come, fanatasy knows no bounds. Yet, today was a day when fantasy was most needed and hardest to invoke. I looked down the path with the long line of groomed trees on either side. The designer of this path had managed to create the optical illusion of a new, lighter world at the path’s end. If one looked down it, one simply wanted to go there to that light opening at the long path’s end. What I would find there I did not know; it was simply the promise of discovering something new that attracted. Curiosity and fantasy about the many possibilities are qualities that summarily put out the fires of fanaticism and intolerance.
Even if Ellie and I don’t march with the many today, we have marched with them in spirit by playing, laughing and letting our fantasy run wild. The good news is that these are things that are within the reach of every human being.