Years ago, as a student at Crawfordville Elementary, our teacher would gather the class and lead us to the covered walkway that stretched from the cafeteria to the main building.
She would yell: “Time for free play”, as our disorganized shriek arose and we set forth into madness.
Those moments were made all the more special because of a dog named ‘Maggie’. She was a small, brown, black, and beige beagle. I gained an appreciation and sincere love for animals through Maggie. She belonged (I believe) to a family that lived next door to the school. In a way, she belonged to us all.
But one day something happened. I’m not sure if Maggie was hit by a car or attacked by another dog, but she was hurt. I’d never seen an animal wounded or in shock. From the looks on our faces as we stared down at her, neither had many (any) of my classmates.
The boy who owned her sank to the ground calling her name: “Maggie… Maggie…”
His face burned red as he cried in that uncontrollable way children do, with Maggie’s head in his lap. We cried with him.
I shared this recollection, which is almost 40 years old at this writing, with the boy who is now a full-grown man.
It was during my last high school reunion that I saw Clarence Morrison, who we all called ‘Trey’, blink and smile with recognition at the mention of his departed pet. (At least, I believe Maggie was his, for they were very close.)
There are friendships and there are acquaintances.
I am quick to call a person my ‘friend’ who is, really, more of an acquaintance. Having been born at or around the same time, we meet in kindergarten and say goodbye at high school graduation.
We greet people in church, Winn Dixie, or Walmart and claim to ‘know’ them. But we’ve never sat in their homes, or they in ours, to break bread. We are ‘friendly’. Our lives fail to intersect, if ever, on a more personal level.
Years pass. A face pops-up on television, or is written in a column and something triggers in the mind:
“Hey, I know –”, or
“Know of –”, or
“Have a connection to –” that person.
This happened to me recently when a former classmate wrote:
“Say it ain’t so Trey, say it ain’t so.”
If you live in Wakulla, then you already know where this is heading.
I looked at the image that was included. It was not flattering. Neither were the other images or comments that followed. It was these images that set many eyes on edge.
I tried to view it all in a way that would not take away from the ‘good thoughts’ I had about a man who, once he became Undersheriff, represented the ‘can do’ spirit of Wakulla High School’s Class of 1987.
One of ours had risen to a position that was worthy of respect and was also a position of power. He was – and is – one of us. When one person in our group succeeds, we all, in a sense, succeed. When the ball is dropped, we all hit the ground.
I also knew the young woman who took offense to the cartoon and the remarks. I went to school with her siblings. Coming up, they didn’t live far from us at all. Members of her family have and still do work in the Wakulla Sheriff’s office.
Imagine being a white female…
A white officer has been shot and killed…
Imagine that officer not having a great reputation, but still being a likeable guy. After all, he had a family and was thinking of continuing his education. But now he’s dead…
Imagine, the only person whose word you can take for how he died, is that of a young black man who claims the officer attacked him.
Would you believe him?
And – suddenly – a cartoon image of a white officer (any white officer) appears on your social media device.
Imagine that it is an image of a white male officer with robust jowls, drooping lips, and an exceedingly large nose, with eyes that appear near dead and vacant. Is he high? Is he some sort of strange baboonish animal…
Imagine that the officer is holding a gun to his head with the word ‘violence’ inscribed on it as if it were the only thing he is worthy of creating…
Imagine the hat on the officer’s head that, instead of an official insignia, read ‘Loot’, as if thievery and ‘taking from society’ were the only things in his mind…
Imagine his mind – his brain – depicted in the image as being the size of a walnut, as if he had no common sense at all.
Imagine, as a young white mother, your son seeing this image before you do.
Imagine your child turning to you, holding that image up and asking: “Is this ME?”
There is often a brief glimpse into a person’s character when you hear them tell a dirty joke. It may cause your perception of that person to shift.
To watch those around you double-over in laughter at the comical nature of the joke makes one question the company they keep.
But what if that breathless laughter ringing in your ears is coming from you?
I sensed my former classmate’s “Say it ain’t so” arose not from mockery, but from the same stunned confusion and disbelief that I felt.
I had hoped that the image was part of a larger, more incomprehensible joke that I was not privy to, and did not want to be.
It is not hard to know where a satirical image like that created by cartoonist Michael Ramirez, can lead the mind. But that is Mr. Ramirez’ job: To disturb our thinking through his imagery. And he is paid handsomely for it.
When looking deeper, it seems the comments that followed the posted image hinted towards a hardness of heart, coming at the expense of someone’s dead teenage son.
Regardless of what we may feel about Ferguson; putting aside the dead husband/father/son from Staten Island; or the deputy lured to his death in Tallahassee; or the man who opened fire at FSU; or the person who left a Wakulla resident dead in the front yard; or the ‘coward with a spray can’ – they all belonged to, were believed in, and loved by someone.
It may seem odd to talk about love and brotherly kindness in such an open manner. But we live in Wakulla.
As soon as you drive in to the county you are confronted with a larger than life billboard that states ‘Wakulla Loves Jesus’.
Does Wakulla love anybody else?
Some might see the sign as saying, ‘Buddhist, Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses and all other faiths unlike ours need not apply’, when some of them are already here and have been for some time.
With almost 80 churches in this one county, how can faith, hope, and charity not be challenged, or put the test? If you claim the faith, then, being tested – to strengthen that faith even more – is part of the package.
Which sections or groups of people within the county are to be loved in their entirety? Which are to be despised – according to our faith?
Upon entering the pearly gates of the afterlife do we break into groups, class types, and races – according to our faith?
Jesus, by most accounts, is doing alright. We are not faring so well. This is why His mainline is constantly on the ring.
Perhaps, our asking the Higher Power to make us a kinder, more compassionate people gets answered in unexpected ways.