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Pastor Walter Mitty left the car windows up and turned on the AC. It was 7 a.m. and the voice on the radio said it was already 80 degrees. Usually he walked to the Wednesday morning men’s breakfast, but he hadn’t slept well, and the heat was leeching all of his energy out of him.

Ash, Dominique and Eric Anderson all arrived at the same time, shared “good mornings” and then just stared at their coffee.

“This heat is sucking the life out of me,” Dominique complained. “No energy. Even when I’m in the air conditioning at the office, I’m tired.”

“It was hot Sunday at the parade, too,” Eric said.

“The parade?” Dominique asked.

“Yeh. Debbie and the kids and I decided to check out the gay pride parade,” Eric said.

Dominique’s eyebrows rose a full inch.

“I can’t picture you and Deb at a gay event,” he said.

Pastor Walt tried to catch Eric’s eye. No one else in the congregation knew what Eric had told him a year ago.

“Why not?” Eric’s expression was serious but relaxed.

“Why not? Man, you’re the Eddie Bauer prototype. You’re the most un-gay man I know,” Dominique responded.

“Dominique doesn’t have a clue,” thought Mitty.

Ash jumped in. “So what was it like?”

“What struck me,” Eric began, “was how normal most people looked. Sure, there were some really weird people, and rainbows were everywhere. Rainbow flags. Rainbow buttons. Rainbow tie-dyed shirts. One guy had even painted his car with rainbow stripes.”

“You gonna hold that coffee pot in the air all morning, or are you gonna pour?” Ash loved it when Alice got drawn into their conversations.

“Wasn’t it kind of strange?” she said as she poured and waited for Eric’s answer.

“Well, it was … it was … strange in a way,” Eric said as he looked out the window at the American flag hanging limp from the pole outside the bank. “But I’ve been to several St. Patrick’s Day parades, and I’ll tell you, I’ve seen some pretty strange people do some really weird things there, too.”

“I’ll have to think about that,” said Alice as she left to fill another empty cup.

“But I want to know how it made you feel?” Ash said looking genuinely interested. “Did it turn you off? Did it fire you up to be an advocate for gay rights?”

Pastor Walt saw Eric look at Ash with genuine affection.

“It made me confused, is what it made me,” Eric said, checking out the flag again, still limp. “That is, until last night, when I heard the president’s speech.”

“You heard it too?” Dominique said. “What did you think?”

“I think … no, I felt so … depressed. Over 1700 of our own people dead over there, and God only knows how many Iraqis. And our being there seems to be the greatest recruiting technique for getting more suicide bombers,” Eric replied.

Eric saw Alice standing over them, not even pretending that she wanted to clear their dirty plates.

“And I thought about the gay parade. And I thought about our congregation. And I thought what if our little community church got caught up in a divisive struggle over gay ordination and marriage”you know, like the Methodists and Lutherans and Episcopalians”and got distracted from all those people dying over there,” Eric continued.

Dominique closed his eyes, looked down at his coffee cup and swallowed hard.

“You all know that I vote Republican most of the time,” Eric said, looking at Ash who was waiting for him to continue. “And you know that I was for the war at the beginning … I was even kind of pumped up by it.”

He closed and opened his eyes.

“But now … I don’t know … it seems, it just seems to have been a terrible mistake,” he concluded.

Ash swallowed the last of his pecan waffle.

“Even some of the guys at the VFW are saying the same thing. They don’t compare it to Vietnam. Apples and oranges. But all these people are coming back and the veteran’s hospitals don’t have the money to care for them. Something like 80,000. I kind of think that our president thought that this would be a nice, clean war without many casualties … you know, like the first gulf war,” Eric added. “So, that’s what I’ve been thinking.”

Eric looked down at his half finished vegetarian omelet.

“I mean, my personal problems are real to me,” he said. “And sometimes they are hard to deal with. But my problems are nothing compared to what so many people … both Americans and Iraqis … are going through over there. You see what I mean? I mean gays and lesbians have a harder row to hoe in our society than straight people, but they’re not being blown up by suicide bombers.”

Eric looked at each man in the booth individually.

“What I’m saying is that gay rights are important, but when people are dying, we have to keep our focus on that,” he said.

Pastor Mitty was half-way home when he felt the car keys in his pocket.

He turned and headed back to the Main Cafe to get his car.

The flag was still hanging limp on the pole.