In the middle

The big man reached out. “Are you Debby Hornburg?”

Warily, I answered, “Yes.”

He said, “You write for the paper?”

I said, “Yes, I do.” I braced myself for what was coming next. You see, I get feedback and not all of it is good. I feel that this country is on the wrong path. I feel it strongly. I feel it with every fiber of my being. What is happening in this country makes no sense, not ethically, not ecologically, not economically, not in the Christian sense either.

I’ve been very matter of fact about that. When you can turn a blind eye to human suffering, when you can even justify turning a blind eye to it, you are not listening to God. I don’t care what you call your faith, it is not justified by God. Plain and simple. You can spout your ugly words the whole livelong day trying to convince me otherwise, but you will not and I will go to my grave believing this simple truth.

On the same token, I have encountered the same sort of ugly and unkind rhetoric on the other side of the political spectrum. As much as I believe that our president is unfit for the office that he holds, as much as I believe that he is a narcisistic danger to all that we honor as a nation, I cannot condone ugly words that look that celebrate the death of others or pigeonhole those who believe otherwise as sort of a subspecies of human being, somone less than our enlightened selves. I’ve addressed that out loud as well.

When you manage to upset both sides, you find yourself in the middle, so the middle is where I sit. I am opposed to what is happening in our government right now. I am foursquare opposed to the president, but I will be what I am in a manner that befits a person who follows the teachings of God.

That means that if I disagree with you, I will state my mind. It interests me that when people spout off things that are not true, they do not like to be corrected. You can provide the proof that they are wrong, and they will continue to insist that they are speaking the truth, that you are the one with the alternate facts. Plus they will get angry that you don’t see it their way.

When things get heated, I will depart from the conversation, ‘shaking the dust from my feet’ as it is written in Matthew 10:14. I don’t waste time arguing anymore. It rarely does any good.

Instead, I will try to be a kind person in an unkind world, ignoring the mutterings and the grumblings around me. I try very hard to be a person of truth in a world that does not value it. I will think my own thoughts. I will act on them. I will write my letters. I will sign my petitions, I will resist. In turn, everyone else is entitled to the same freedom. This is, after all, America.

Unfortunately not everyone remembers that fact.

The day of my encounter with the big man, Connie Schultz had her own experience. A man behind her in a checkout line bumped her with a shopping cart. She pushed it back and he bumped her once again. A verbal exchange ensued. He thought he recognized her face from the paper. He was of a different political persuasion and he didn’t like her. So he bumped her with a shopping cart and tried to verbally embarrass her. She calmly got out her camera and began to film him. He demanded she put the camera away, and when she didn’t, he shut up, just as his frightened wife begged him to.

On the 4th of July, I sat on the steps of my own church, watching the parade, right next to our sign that reads, “We don’t care where you’re from, we’re glad that you’re our neighbor.” Despite those kind words, I listened to someone else sitting on those steps He was quite disgusted to see a friend of mine in the parade. Sarcastically, he said, “And there goes one of our fine liberals now.” He was in the middle of his outrage when I turned to him and said, “Do you know where you’re sitting? This church is the home of many fine liberals.” He looked surprised, but he shushed.

It doesn’t always happen, like that. Sometimes people are rude. Really rude. I’ve encountered it, personally, with people who believe that they are right just as firmly as I believe they are wrong. They want to tell me what they think. They want the last word.

Once, in a parking lot, I complimented a kindred soul on their bumper sticker. They told me that they were at a red light, with a big truck behind them, one then kept revving its engine. When he was ignored, he lightly bumped their SUV with his truck. More than once.

People are sometimes shockingly rude, so when that man looked at me and asked, “You write for the paper?” I braced myself for whatever came next. He said, “I wanted to tell you that I respect you. I like that you stood up for what you believed during the election. I like that you spoke up, that you didn’t back away or quit writing for them.”

I was not expecting that. I said, “Well, I guess it surprises me that people can see it so differently. He told how he came from a megachurch in Arkansas. Three services on Sunday morning. Multiple preachers. All of them preaching that Donald Trump was God’s answer to many prayers. He didn’t understand it.

I nodded and I said the truth that I carry deep in my heart out loud: “If you are being unkind to your fellow man, you are not listening to God.” He nodded. He believed the same thing to be true. In the middle of that noisy place, there was quiet agreement.

It comforts me when that happens, when I meet kindred souls who whisper to me “I agree with you” or “I feel the same way” or “You keep writing.” These small and unexpected encounters always leave me encouraged, reminding me that I am not alone.

In turn, if you are also sitting in the middle, I hope this column comforts you and leaves you encouraged. I hope that it reminds you that you are not alone. In fact, there are more of us than you might believe. Even in Warren County.