Pastor Walter Mitty couldn’t concentrate on his letter to the members of Poplar Park Community Church. He knew he should get this plea for increased giving finished, printed and in the mail before November, but he was anxious about the counseling session just 15 minutes away.
Eric and Debbie Anderson had called and asked if they could come in again for help. As far as Mitty knew, he was the only person Eric had told about his growing realization that he was gay. He had no bright ideas about what they should do, partly because he was conflicted about the whole gay thing himself.
He jumped a little in his chair when Eric knocked on the office door.
The three of them complained about how cold it had been and commented about how well the Bears were doing. Then there was silence. Each was looking at the floor trying to figure out what from what angle they wanted to tackle the problem.
Debbie broke the silence and said, “Pastor. It’s been more than a year now since Eric told me about his…well, his newly discovered feelings. And, well, as you know it’s been a really rough year.”
As Debbie began to choke up with emotion, Eric continued, saying, “Like Deb was saying, Pastor, it’s been a rough year. We talked about getting a divorce, but the more we talked about it, the more we found ourselves comforting each other.”
The couple shared their concerns about their kids and their worry about what God would think about breaking their marriage vows. They confessed to being concerned about what people would think, and Debbie found herself worrying aloud what might happen to Eric if he came out.
Pastor Walt was amazed when he happened to look at the clock above Eric’s head and saw that 45 minutes had passed, and he hadn’t said anything but “I see” and “that must have been hard.”
“Well, Pastor,” Debbie said. “Eric and I, we think we want to stay together until our kids are old enough to not be hurt too badly by us not being a family like we have been.”
“But,” Mitty replied, “you know it often doesn’t work when a couple is having trouble. I mean staying together because of the kids.”
Mitty kept shaking his head as he bucked the cold wind on his three block walk to his house. The Anderson’s had thanked him profusely for being such a big help, and he had spoken a total of maybe four sentences in the hour they were together.
Hanging up his coat on the tree just inside the door, Pastor Walt decided to relax by watching TV. The first thing to appear on Channel 7 was the “what was she thinking” ad slamming Melissa Bean. Then came an ad with Topinka slamming Blagojevich for being involved in corruption, which was answered by the spot in which the incumbent basically said Topinka is talking through her hat.
Mitty pressed the power button on his remote and sat in the dark for awhile, his mother’s afghan keeping him warm. The negative ads made his mind go back almost two years to one of those candidate debates held in the Poplar Park middle school cafeteria. He would never forget what happened.
Ernie Romano, who had been mayor of Poplar Park for 12 years, was at the microphone promoting his pro-business approach to local government and taking credit for the new businesses moving into the once empty stores on Main Street. When the challenger, Carl Reiniger got up to speak, everyone leaned forward. Carl was part of a new generation of educated people moving into the village, people with training in city planning.
“I’m worried about what is happening to Poplar Park,” Carl began. “You’ve all noticed all the townhouses being built around town, and I’m sure that most of you in this cafeteria couldn’t afford to buy them. I’m proposing a tax on new homes, just half a percent of the sale price, and the income would go into a fund to subsidize low cost housing in this village.”
Carl paused to let his proposal sink in, and to his surprise, he saw Ernie Romano approach.
“Excuse me, Carl, but can I say something?” Carl yielded to the incumbent. “I know this is out of order, but I just wanted to say that well, what Carl just said makes sense to me. As you know, I never went to college. Came up the hard way, and I’m proud of that.
“What I mean is that I’ve been worrying about Poplar Park becoming gentrified too, and this is the first time I’ve heard a sensible proposal on what to do about it. Carl, if I’m elected, the first thing I’m going to do is ask you to head up a task force to start working on your idea.”
Stunned silence lasted for about 20 seconds, and then the 30 people who turned out in the middle of the spring downpour stood and applauded until the two men stood together in the center of the stage smiling.
Romano won the election by a hair and kept his promise to appoint Carl to a new task force on affordable housing.
So different than what I’m seeing on TV, thought Mitty as he reached for the remote and tried again to find a program he could enjoy.
Surfing the channels he found a CNN station airing a speech by Bill Clinton at Georgetown University. Clinton was lamenting the political polarization in the country and arguing that politicians had lost sight of a concept he called the “common good.”
That’s it, thought Mitty. That’s what happened two years ago with Carl and Ernie. They cared more about Poplar Park than about winning the election. And that’s what was going on with Deb and Eric, too.