Article Written by Margaret Aliffi
The other day after watching a movie, a friend and I decided to take my dog for a walk and wander around the Elizabeth Street Garden a couple blocks away. As we were sitting under a tree, chatting, an older gentleman pulled up a chair near by. His brightly patterned shirt caught my eye and I asked if it was alright to take a picture of him, to which he agreed. Later, as we were wandering through the rest of the garden, we struck up a conversation with him and he introduced himself as Ed Morris. At first we just conversed about the flowers around the garden that he helped plant, one that had the smell of powder, and plants he wanted to plant but couldn’t because they’re too poisonous. As he pointed out the various vegetation filling the garden he told us that the people around him, especially earlier in his life, didn’t accept him for the things he liked such as his affinity for plants rather they found him strange and nonconforming.
We digressed into conversation about where we are all from and the plants native to those various regions when we stumbled onto a topic of contention; the removal of the Confederate monuments in the south, which he opposed. I must admit my first reaction to his stance was almost violent. I was ready to leave the conversation entirely, marking him off as a racist at worst or a willfully ignorant sympathizer at best. However I remembered a lesson that I always preach, tolerance, listening to others when they speak rather than writing them off simply because they have a different opinion than yours. With the current divisive climate, particularly in the United States, it’s easy to jump to conclusions when someone holds a viewpoint that differs from your own. As I listened to him speak I understood that he didn’t hold his point of view out of support for the Confederacy or what that movement stood, and still today stands for, but rather because he values history and sees the harm in removing historical artifacts. As the conversation progressed we both agreed that other statues that celebrate all people from the south, such as inventors who are rarely given credit and those who helped lead slaves to freedom, should be put up to make equal in society those who did so much but receive so little acknowledgment.
Sitting and talking with Mr. Morris reminded me of my own values and of the importance of talking. That conversation wasn’t a conversation between young and old or a man and a woman but rather just between two people. There was no animosity, only listening and learning and I learned quite a lot from him, not just in what he said but how he said it. It was an experience that reminded me that every person I see is living their own life, telling their own story and simply trying to exist in this crazy world.