A few days after Holiday Brook Farm had arranged a political endorsement message out of hay bales on their farm, it was razed by fire. In the aftermath, the farm’s owner, Dicken Crane, called the Dalton Police station. He was trying to reach Lonnie Durfee, the man accused in the fiery vandalism.
When the officer on duty connected them, Mr. Crane, who just days prior had lost thousands of dollars in silage after watching in horror as flames erupted on his farm, did not berate his fellow Daltonian. Instead, he offered his condolences. Shortly after the fire on his farm, Mr. Crane learned that Mr. Durfee had recently lost his son in a motorcycle accident. He was apologetic and remorseful during the phone call, according to Mr. Crane, and admitted that losing his son took a toll on his sobriety efforts.
“This guy lost a hell of a lot more than I did. I feel really, really bad for him,” Mr. Crane told The Eagle on Thursday.
Responding to someone’s political speech by setting fire to their property is unequivocally wrong and a grave example of our rapidly deteriorating political discourse. Grief does not excuse violating this principle, and if Mr. Durfee is found guilty, he should be held fully accountable for his actions.
Beyond this singular incident, however, finding a way out of the polarized climate that gives rise to this sort of dangerous escalation will require following Mr. Crane’s admirable example. This is not just forgiving and forgetting. This is acknowledging the humanity of those who would wrong us — even through particularly egregious acts like trying to silence someone’s political expression with burning mayhem — because it’s a lack of humanity that drives the worst of this polarization.
The sphere of politics appears more deranging than any time in recent memory. That the divisive zealotry of election-year politics has infected even tightknit, small communities like Dalton in such dramatic fashion certainly bears that out. The fire made the usually quiet Central Berkshire town ground zero for a viral news story seen by hundreds of thousands after it was picked up by news outlets across the country, from The Washington Post to Fox News. What says 2020 more than an anodyne political sign met with flame and accelerant?
But, when the ensuing national news cycles move on, they’ll likely miss the antidote that must be scaled up to counter this calamitous division. When Mr. Crane called the man in police custody accused of torching his farm, he didn’t address him as a political opponent or an angry victim. He spoke to him as a neighbor, to a member of a shared community who was enduring a hidden hardship of his own. That hardship does not absolve Mr. Durfee or anyone who seeks wanton destruction, but it matters that Mr. Crane was able to reach out and understand. The circumstances were deeply unfair under which Mr. Crane was forced to be a paragon of unity, yet the understanding he has modeled will likely be necessary if the nation is to heal from a contentious election amid such a trying year.
Like any systemic force, the derangement of politics falls disproportionately on the most vulnerable. Yet, regardless of circumstance, we all must hold ourselves responsible for not giving in to the worst instincts it brings about, as we saw when flames ominously illuminated the Dalton sky. Further, we must heed Mr. Crane’s example: Even through hardship, we must turn down the temperature, not raise it.