Tuesday morning in BGWritten by Eric McGlade | | firstname.lastname@example.org
It all began quite innocently enough. I was in the lobby of the Bowling Green Post Office, stamping my wife’s newsletters. A man, crusty in both appearance and spirit, leaned next to me to complain about the postal service. From there he moved onto other topics, weaving them together in such a way as to suggest the imminent demise of our great nation. I kept quiet, stamping the newsletters.
He suggested that justice demanded hanging and shooting terrorists on sight, shipping undocumented aliens back to Mexico in cattle cars and ridding America of all undesirable elements. When I suggested that we are a nation of laws and that justice requires due process, he pounced.
“You sound like a liberal!” As a woman walks by, he says to her, “Look, we have a liberal here.” She turns to me and tells me that people like me are ruining her business because we elected “that man” president. With that she left. The crusty old guy went on sharing a list of individuals and causes that he hates. I suggested that there seems to be a place for hatred in his vision of justice. He told me that he really didn’t hate people, that it was just a figure of speech. When I suggested that words matter, he told me that people like me were ruining his country.
When I told him it was my country too, he left, telling me as he walked away, “no it isn’t, you do not belong here.”
I walked into Panera Bread for my daily dose of caffeine. An aspiring writer and I began to talk. The discussion went all over the place, from drug addiction to tattooing to existentialism to writing. Though she made some observations that were a bit unsettling to a person in my line of work, I was struck by her enthusiasm and intellect; it was my second adventure in 30 minutes.
About an half an hour later a man stopped by my office. He called himself “the Peacewalker.” He has walked 5,000 miles in non-violent protest to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. We sat in my office and talked. He shared some stories and then he wished me God’s blessing as he left; it was adventure No. 3.
I can’t say every Tuesday morning is like this. The muses were obviously working overtime. What a range of opinion, expression and daring. I wonder how do we do it? How do we keep this diverse and pluralistic nation of ours from coming apart at the seams? I once heard a historian suggest that America was a nation born with two distinct visions. The Hamiltonian vision (Alexander Hamilton) was focused on the market place, the individual, and an established leadership class. The other, the Jeffersonian vision (Thomas Jefferson), was centered on the community and an informed and educated citizenry that becomes the seedbed for leadership. Over time the Hamiltonians morphed into the libertarians and the GOP, the Jeffersonians into the progressives and the DEMS.
Perhaps it is the ongoing negotiating and living in the tension between these two visions is how we as a nation have been able to keep it together. This negotiation has allowed us to become secure enough with ourselves as a people we can find a place for an aspiring young writer to write about uncomfortable things, a gentle protester to take his cause to the streets, and to even elect “that man” our president.
Then, there is that crusty soul who wants to invalidate my citizenship because I am “a liberal” whatever that means. Even though his opinions were so extreme they were easily dismissible, I must confess it was unsettling to hear that I did not belong in the land of my birth. For the first time I had a taste, just a small one, of what those who have been and are marginalized in our society must know on a daily basis.
What do we do with those who seem incapable of holding these two foundational visions in a creative and healthy tension with each other? What do we do with the intolerant?
I guess as long as they don’t hurt anyone, nothing. The beauty of living in a country that is secure in its own identity is there is a place for that crusty soul too.
And so it goes,…
Eric McGlade is a United Methodist Minister living in Bowling Green.