“Hey, Rev, do you have any of those McDonald’s gift cards left?”
Pastor Walter Mitty fumbled in the desk drawer in his office at Poplar Park Community Church and found he had one more left.
“Here you go,” said Mitty as he handed the homeless man the card. “What do you think? Is 2022 going to be better that 2021?”
“For sure,” Henry replied. “Have you been watching the stock market? My in- vestments keep going up.”
Mitty had gone to a Lily Tomlin concert years ago and never forgot the comedian’s sketch in which she played a bag lady. “You know I’m certifiably crazy,” she said to the audience. “See, this is what happened. I came to the conclusion that reality is the main cause of stress, so I checked out of reality.”
“And you know,” said Tomlin’s character after a pause, “everything’s been so much nicer ever since.”
“Happy New Year,” said Henry as he zipped up his coat … and thanks for the card.” “Is that what it takes?” Mitty said to himself as he walked to the church kitchen to get a refill of coffee. “Do you have to be a little delusional?”
He returned to the warmth of his cozy office, and stared out the window at the bleakness of the last day of the year — overcast sky, bare trees, the snow from a few days before had all melted. It was not the winter wonderland pictured on some of the cards he received that week.
Delusional. That’s what Sharissa Hawkins accused Dominique of at coffee hour the day after Christmas. Dominique had been distributing little boxes of Fannie May candy to everyone who showed up.
“It’s to celebrate getting through a hard year,” he explained, “and to look forward to 2022 being a lot better.”
“What have you been smokin’, Dominique?”
“Aw, c’mon, Sharissa. Lighten up a little. I know as well as you do that the glass is half empty, but it’s also half full.”
Pastor Walt was used to the political sparring between two of his favorite members, but he also knew where they were coming from. Both had grown up on the West Side and gone to college. Dominique, however, had gotten an MBA after that and rose in the corporate ranks to vice president.
Sharissa earned an MSW and was making one-third of what he made in business. She wore jeans to work in her cramped basement office in a small church in Englewood. Dominique wore a Brooks Brothers suit to his corner office on the 52nd floor of the Chase Tower in the Loop.
Mitty laughed so hard he almost spilled his coffee. The two were kind of like the congregation’s ideological odd couple. Sharissa was more like A.O.C., impatient and angry. Tired of “waiting till next year.” Like John Lewis, Sharissa was not afraid to make “good trouble.”
Dominique was more like Gen. Colin Powell. He believed in the system, played it well, and was rewarded with success. Or maybe like Hank Aaron, Dominique had quietly done his job and proved that he was better than his detractors.
“So, what about next year?” Pastor Walt asked himself. “Is there anything in our experience that encourages us to look to the future with expectation, with optimism?”
He remembered how his parents had always voted Republican. They were, after all, the party of progressive optimism embodied by Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower. Following Gen. Eisenhower’s leadership, we had defeated fascism in WWII, and now under Eisenhower, the economy was booming. There was every reason in the world to trust that next year would be better than this year, which itself had been pretty darn good.
During most of the conversation Asch had just listened, not wanting to get in trouble, even if it were “good trouble.” But finally he decided that these “young folks” might benefit from his perspective.
“I grew up in 1950s,” he began, “and I remember seeing on TV segregated bathrooms in the South, women in the military were called WACS, and no one paid any attention to recycling. So Friday night I’m going to look to the new year with optimism.”
“I’m even older than Asch,” added Miss Rose, “and I’m going to go to bed at 10 on New Year’s Eve! I’ve seen the ball drop in Times Square so many times that predictions of the end of the world, or in our times the end of democracy, no longer make my blood pressure rise.”
Sharissa waited a respectful moment to make sure that the octogenarian had finished before asking, “But Miss Rose, climate change is affecting our planet and unless we do something and do it now, we’ll be in trouble.”
Miss Rose smiled at the young firebrand with affection and replied, “Honey, you might be right about the urgency of the situation, but my experience indicates that if you treat the issues we’re facing like a hundred-meter dash when it’s really a marathon you’ll feel like you are winning for just a few seconds, but those who pace themselves are the ones who will endure to the end.”
She laughed, pointed her finger at Mitty, and added, “One reason I keep coming to a church with a white pastor is because he didn’t roll in here — how many years ago is it now? — thinking he knew all the answers and was God’s new Moses who would lead us through the wilderness to the Promised Land.”
“We don’t need no Moses,” she concluded. “What we need is more folks to step in the harness with us and pull this wagon a little further down the road.”