January 31

COMMENTARY: Pete Seeger didn’t push his message — he lived it

Growing up in the folk singer’s hometown showed how small acts of kindness can mean more than political protests.

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What started as a group protest quickly turned into a flurry of capitulation, as boys (who, to be honest, were only humoring me in the first place), complied almost immediately with teacher requests to take their hats off.

Within an hour, every head was bare, save two — me and Tao.

Of course it was Tao. More than any of us, he understood that making a statement is more important than following the rules. More importantly, he saw that I, a person who had been mean to him, needed his support and friendship.

Whether consciously or not, Tao was emulating his grandfather. Over the decades, while symbols of oppression collapsed under their own autocratic weight, Seeger stuck around, responded to adversity with kindness and supported those in need.

And somehow, today, the mountain of resentment toward Seeger in Beacon is gone.

As a new generation of young people grew up, Seeger’s image changed, from that of troublesome activist to something almost mythic, a national treasure.

The city itself has been revitalized; the storefronts are so full of local shops and eateries one can no longer easily find parking on Main Street. Every year, residents hold a strawberry festival on the banks of Seeger’s beloved Hudson River, and he would always come down to sing to the crowds, which grew larger and more adoring each year.

Today, I am regretful of the insults I heaped on Tao. When I think about him, I remember his kind nature, something I am sure was inspired by his grandfather. And I, in turn, have been inspired by him.

That’s the way Seeger’s magic works.

He never would have said that he could move mountains. He might move a rock or two, here or there, and if people liked the way he did it, well then, they were welcome to move a few of their own.

Often, people did. And then others joined in.

And wouldn’t you know it, at the end of the day, with a little kindness and understanding and patience, it was almost as if the mountain had moved itself.

Staff writer Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at 861-9287, mhhetling@centralmaine.com or on Twitter: @hh_matt
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