Pastor Walter Mitty was about to give Tracy Pfeffer a cheery ‘what a nice surprise’ when she walked into the church office last Friday morning but when he looked more closely he asked, “Tracy, are you OK?”
“No, not really,” she replied as she slumped into a chair. “Do you have a minute? It’s about Sean and me.”
The minute turned out to last an hour and a half in which she told the pastor who married them 14 years ago the long story. “Those first years we were married we would have fights every once in a while, but there was always a line that we would never cross. Back then we cared more about our marriage than we did about having it all our own way.”
Pastor Mitty let the silence hang in the air as Tracy picked out her next words. “This last year,” she said as she choked back tears, “we’ve been crossing that line all the time. We hate how we treat each other, but no matter how hard we try we can’t get back over to the side where we began.”
Every time the pastor of Poplar Park Community Church hears painful stories from his members, he gets emotionally drained, so when Tracy finally said “thank you and can I come in to talk more next week,” he was ready for a break.
As he walked in the crisp fall air he stopped to watch six boys—he thought they might be middle school age—playing basketball on their school playground. The longer he watched, the more depressed he got, because they spent more time arguing about someone calling a foul or how their teammates were performing than actually playing.
Without an impartial referee to force them to play fairly, they were simply incapable of having a good game. “It’s almost like there’s a demon or something that is making them do exactly the opposite of what they want to do,” he thought to himself.
Realizing that this was not the kind of break he had been looking for, he continued walking for another two blocks until he got to a small plot of grass with a maple tree between two apartment buildings where the Village of Poplar Park had put up a bench. He sat down, and the combination of the cooler fall air and the warmth of the sun on the back of his neck began having its soothing effect.
Just as his eyelids were closing and he felt himself sliding into kind of a meditative zone, he heard, “Hey Walt. Great minds run in the same channels. Looks like we both needed some fresh air.”
“Oh, hi Zaphne.”
Ordinarily Pastor Mitty would be delighted to see the young, attractive owner of the Retro Coffee and Curio Shop, but today, at least for an hour or two, he wanted to be alone.
“What brings you outside during business hours?” he asked surprising himself at how cheery he sounded. You see, Pastor Mitty had been raised to compartmentalize emotions like irritation with other people and at least pretend that he was happy to be with them.
“I was watching the news about the Christine Blasey Ford hearings and the vote on Kavanaugh,” she answered, “and was getting so angry that I had to turn off the TV and get out of the store.”
“Yeh, that whole thing is upsetting,” was the only polite response Mitty could think of.
“I mean those 11 old, white, privileged, male Republicans had absolutely no intention of taking Dr. Ford seriously. They had their minds made up way before hearing her testimony. It started when Mitch McConnell said he wanted to make Obama a one-term president and continued with the shameful blocking of the nomination of Merrick Garland.”
Ordinarily Pastor Mitty would have been energized by Zaphne’s rant, because he shared many of her views about Republicans destroying civility and tradition in Congress, but a two-person political pep rally was not what he longed for on Friday. All he wanted was a little vacation from reality, so he made some excuse like having a sermon to write and went back to the office.
But when he got to the side door he found it unlocked and John Havlicek, armed with Windex and a squeegee, cleaning the windows.
“How’s it going, John?” he asked out of habit but not really wanting to know.
“I’m so mad I could spit,” was the custodian’s reply and Pastor Mitty wished he had said good morning instead.
“All those Democrats want to do is destroy the reputation of a good and decent man.”
“You don’t think they really are looking for the truth?” Pastor Mitty took a stab at having a civil conversation.
“Are you kidding?! Pastor, they are sore about losing the election and are gumming the process up hoping for some kind of miracle to keep another conservative from getting on the Supreme Court. They knew about this woman’s complaint way back in July when they could have gotten together with Republicans and interviewed the woman in private without putting either her or Judge Kavanaugh in the public spotlight.”
As he closed the office door behind him, Pastor Mitty confessed to himself that if he ever would be accused of sexual misconduct, that’s the way he would like it to be handled. He tried to shift emotional gears and concentrate on his sermon, but no matter how hard he tried to concentrate, he kept coming back to his experiences that day.
Thinking about what Tracy had said, he wondered, “Have we all crossed a cultural line and can’t find our back to where we were?”
With the picture of those boys arguing on the playground, he thought, “It’s like we’re in bondage to some evil force that makes us spend all our energy blaming ‘the other side’ instead of pulling together to get to where we all say we want to be.”
As he stewed in his depression something made him think of the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. In the first step, people in recovery admit that they are powerless over whatever it is that is destroying them, and in the second step they surrender to the necessity of a Power greater than themselves being the only thing capable of restoring their individual and collective sanity.