Contemplating definitions of coexistence

Zachary Phillips

As I was driving North on the Esplanade a few weeks ago, I was hit. Not by a car, but a question.

What does it truly mean to coexist with one another? Preoccupied with this mystery, I failed to notice that my stoplight had turned green.

As the woman behind me blared her horn and sped past in a cloud of noxious fumes, I received an answer; “Coexist” in blue and gold and pretty symbols on her back bumper.

An even better answer came to me a week later during a visit from a close friend and recent graduate.

Like any pair of young adults with less than perfect judgement, we decided the best time and place to catch up was 10 p.m. at Madison Bear Garden.

This may be unusual, but something about dim lights, pounding music and pitchers of beer really put me in the mood for some political discourse.

My friend must have felt the same because we soon found ourselves diving headlong into the touchiest of topics, the kind that can end friendships altogether.

Abortion, same-sex marriage, East versus West Coast pale ale; no subject went untouched.

So we were sitting across from one another, a vindictive gay guy and a devoted catholic, about to talk about same-sex marriage.

Shots would be fired. Blood would be spilled. Heads would roll.

Enamored by visions of grandeur and self-righteousness, I was prepared to do battle with narrow-mindedness and legalism in a gladiator arena of discourse.

I had every intention of pouncing upon who I assumed was an ill-equipped opponent, armed with a shield of iron-clad assertions and a spear of sharpened wit.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was the only one fighting. Whereas I wanted to drive a point home, his only desire was to understand my experiences and where I was coming from.

The conversation quickly turned away from a clash of opinions toward an appreciation of views. Our beliefs, although starkly different, were based on the same values.

We both valued integrity. We both valued others’ health and wellness. Most importantly, we both valued each other’s friendship outside of religious or political convictions.

True coexistence ended up being a lot less glamorous than I had expected. It isn’t a trendy bumper sticker on the back of a car, and it certainly isn’t brandishing a belief in another’s face.

True coexistence is respecting someone in a way that, despite all disputes, leads you to lay down arms and surrender.

Zachary Phillips can be reached at [email protected] or @ZachSPhillips on Twitter.