I have been in Oregon almost a year. But for most of that time I felt a little bit like a stranger. It takes time to get used to a new place and for the first few months I was here I was more than a little depressed. I felt isolated since I work from home and I struggled to meet people. Everything was so foreign and that just made my loneliness even worse. I would drive around, trying to figure out how to get out of Oregon City, as well as trying to figure out how I got there in the first place and I'd wonder if I would ever feel at home here.
But the people in this area helped me feel like I belonged here, just by being themselves. Sure, I joke about how everyone wants to know what my plans are for the weekend, and how the drivers out here cannot merge (my theory on this is that you have to be a little bit of a jerk to merge -- I'm coming in whether you like it or not – and being a jerk just isn't a thing out here), but people from Oregon can be relied upon to be nice. You can count on it, set your clock to it, bet your money on it. And well, there is something very powerful and reassuring about living in an area where the majority of people are so friendly.
But it's more than just being friendly. In my mind Oregon is this progressive paradise where humanity is striving to be the best it can be. If you grew up here, and haven't traveled to the East Coast, you might not realize just how good you have it, so I'll tell you: It's pretty awesome here. Oregon isn't just a place; Oregon is a way of life and the people here make me want to be a better person. Truly. They make me want to be kinder, friendlier, healthier. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to live here.
Which is why the brutal attack in May on Ricky John Best, Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, and Micah David-Cole Fletcher on the MAX in Portland, which resulted in the death of two of those men and significant injuries to the third, caused me to feel unbalanced. I was shocked. How could something like that happen here? In Oregon? Sure, that's naive and I should know better. Having practiced criminal defense work for almost 20 years back in Pennsylvania, I am painfully aware how horrible humans can be to one another. But I carry this stereotype in my heart about Oregon and I just did not see that coming.
After the shock, I felt a wave of guilt. Could I be that brave? Would I be that brave? Would I speak up? Or would I be afraid? After the election I wore my safety pin with pride, never doubting that I would help someone in need. Never worrying that if I spoke up for someone I would be in danger. But after this happened, I will be honest – I did worry. I questioned my dedication to doing the right thing. Being an atheist, I believe that this life is the only life we get – so what am I willing to risk it over? How American am I? Give me liberty or death? Just how dedicated am I to freedom? Maybe I'll just move to Canada instead.
Some on the right like to call progressives "snowflakes," implying that we are weak and afraid. But those three "snowflakes" who stood up against prejudice and hatred that day on the train didn't run like cowards. They didn't back down. And while they certainly didn't expect to die and probably didn't except to be attacked with a knife, there had to be some inkling in the back of their minds that maybe something bad could happen because we all know that's just how life is, right? But they did what they did anyway. And the man who is accused of killing them – he ran. Like a coward. The big bad tough guy who spewed his hatred at the world ran and hid.
I saw the photo of the mother of one of the victims that was circulating on social media – the one where she was cupping the face of a young Muslim woman with a look of genuine kindness in her eyes. And there was that wave of guilt again – could I be that forgiving and kind? It's one thing to talk about doing something like that, and quite another to actually do it. In my work as a defense attorney, I saw repeatedly the way violence and tragedy can destroy people, make them bitter and angry. But anger is intoxicating and all consuming. It takes significant strength to resist the pull of the false comfort that wanting revenge brings.
In looking at that mother's face, I saw everything I believed in my heart Oregon was and her love was inspiring. I saw her face and I thought – there it is – right there – the magic of Oregon.