Pastor Walter Mitty noticed that the alarm clock said 8 a.m. as he reached for his phone sitting on the bed stand. The caller ID said it was Michael Rosenthal, Mitty’s next-door neighbor and friend.
“Are you OK?” Mitty heard Michael ask.
“What do you mean, Michael?”
“I heard what happened at church yesterday. I had breakfast at the Main Café with my son, and Alice told me all about it as she was taking our order.”
“What did she say?”
Mitty heard his friend chuckling. “Oh, she said it’s all over town. How you voted for Trump and were saying we should build a wall on the Mexican border and deport all illegal immigrants.”
The pastor of Poplar Park Community Church didn’t think it was funny.
“But I didn’t say that! What happened was that Sharissa Hawkins had just gotten back from Washington D.C. on the red-eye flight, and at the coffee hour after church she was really excited about the Women’s March the day before.
“I was with her until she started calling all Trump voters ignorant, xenophobic, misogynist and all of that. That’s when I pushed back a little, reminding her that I come from Manitowoc and that although the majority of the people I know there voted for Trump and might be a little unsophisticated, they are basically decent people.” Mitty paused. “And that’s when the manure hit the rotary oscillator.”
Michael sighed. “I knew Alice was embellishing what she had heard. She should apply for a job on Fox News. But you and I both know that Poplar Park can be like that. Even though a majority of people here voted for Hillary, there are some who don’t let facts get in the way of what they believe.”
Mitty acknowledged that what his friend was saying was true. Poplar Park is a village in the Chicago Metro area which many people have never heard of. Evanston had Northwestern University; Obama had lived in Hyde Park; and at least Cicero had Al Capone. Even the name Poplar Park was unimpressive. Over a hundred years ago when the town was incorporated, it was the fashion to name a village after a tree, but by the time Poplar Park looked for a name, all the classy trees were already taken: Maple Grove, Elmwood Park, Pine Crest, Oak Park. Poplar wasn’t real classy but it was all that was left.
Before hanging up, Mitty agreed to walk with Michael after lunch to Zaphne’s shop, called The Retro, and see if she had acquired any Ernie Banks or Willie Mays baseball cards since last week.
He had just finished brushing his teeth when he heard “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” the ring tone on his phone. It was Dominique, a respected member of the church who was a rare combination — an African American and a Republican.
“Hey, Pastor. You OK?” Mitty heard the voice asking on the other end. “I saw you walking out of church yesterday, looking like you had been misunderstood. I just wanted to call to say that I think you were. You meant well. You were trying to get liberals to see reality from another point of view. Tell you the truth, the same thing happens to me. Most people can’t see how a black man can be a Republican.”
“You made my day, Dominique,” Mitty found himself saying. “Thanks for helping me put things in perspective.”
“Most of my life I’ve been misunderstood,” Dominique continued. “If I’m not wearing a business suit and people hear I grew up in the Robert Taylor projects, they automatically stereotype me as being rude, crude and angry. Then when they find out that I usually vote Republican, they assume I voted for Trump and somehow I’m a traitor to my race.”
Pastor Mitty knew Dominique’s story better than most, and his phone call made him realize that the man on the other end wanted to understand and care for him even though they sometimes didn’t see eye-to-eye politically.
After hanging up, as the pastor of Poplar Park Community Church put on his fall jacket — crazy warm weather for January, he thought — he heard a knock on the door. He opened it and found Henry standing on the porch.
“Pastor Mitty,” said Henry as apologetically as he could, “I hate to bother you on your day off but could you give me one of those Dunkin Donuts gift cards you have? The shelter doesn’t open till 7:30, and I’m really hungry.”
Henry probably has $20 from panhandling already this morning, thought Mitty as he took a gift card from the drawer of his desk and gave it to the homeless man. He closed the front door behind him and followed Henry down the steps. In the half minute it took to get to Michael’s door he felt a pleasant peacefulness wash over him. It was only noon and already he had ridden up and down an emotional roller coaster, but because of his diverse friendships, his spiritual car hadn’t flown off the tracks.
Today he was going to make it to the end of the ride in OK shape.