There is a spot on the highway of SR 280 in Ohio, right before you cross over a railroad track. It is a non-descript spot, nothing exciting or noteworthy. Farmland and houses sprinkled here and there. To anyone driving down this road, traveling from the Bowling Green area into Defiance County, nothing along this monotonous stretch would cause an emotional response. Unless a deer jumped out, their hearts wouldn’t quicken or eyes moisten.
Unless you are me. For the last 20 years, any time I am heading to the town I grew up in and I come upon this non-descript, paved, two lane stretch of road, my heart does quicken and my eyes do begin to get a bit teary. Some trips more than others. This trip elicits emotions of sadness and of longing that no one else traveling this strip would experience. As I come upon the exact spot, just a few feet before the railroad track,
The scene unfolds in my memory like a movie clip trailer.
Me as a 24 year old mother of four littles, pulled over to the side of the road, on the phone with a nurse from the Defiance Hospital.
“Your mom just passed away.” “What?!?” “Your mom has died.”
Stop for just a moment. Pause and allow your mind to bring forth some similar such memory. Something traumatic, life changing, a crisis of life occurred, a betrayal or death.
Can you think of some landmarks of that event that serve as reminders to you and bring about some sort of emotional response? Maybe it is photos of the person who has died? Or a gift from a friend that is no longer a part of your life; that space and grace has not healed and brought you back together again? Maybe it is the spot on the road where your family had a life changing car accident? Or the exact place you were sitting when your spouse told you they were leaving your marriage?
Different people handle these landmarks of life in a variety of ways. Tear the photos into shreds and burn them. Or just pack them away in case some day… Place a cross at the side of the road. Buy new furniture. Never wear the necklace that reminds you of the pain of a broken relationship but that you cherish too much to give away. Take a different route home so you don’t have to pass the location of where your beloved lost their life’s fight here on earth.
Now. Take a breath and hold on with me as we take these memories held so tightly in our very souls and delve into a current hot topic.
Landmarks. Statues. Memorials. General Lee. Confederate war memorials. On school campuses and town squares.
Pieces of stone and marble placed in certain locations to commemorate specific times in our history.
Maybe non-descript and with little to no negative, painful emotional responses for many people.
And maybe… just maybe… very descript and very full of quickened heartbeats and tears at the memories of past trauma, crisis, pain, death, inequality, oppression and persecution.
Does the feelings of one individual trump the feelings of another?
Just because driving past that same spot before the railroad track on SR 280 does not elicit any emotional response for you, does that mean that my feelings and sadness and actual physical response does not matter?
Before anyone gets so quick as to say things such as “don’t touch that monument, I dare you take that down from our town square”. Before any one clicks so quickly to share a snarky meme on Facebook or put together a 140 character tweet to downplay and belittle the feelings of a fellow human being. Before you spend time in your day, with a group of people who feel and believe exactly as you do.
Before any of that, could you take that time and sit down and HEAR the words of The Other? Because the other is your fellow human being. They are journeying in this life on earth, just as you are. They are paying bills and going to work and trying to be good people. They have a history and they have wounds and memories and joys, just as you do. They have families and legacies and hearts.
If you have these strong beliefs and feelings of your own about these statues, about the confederate flag, have you taken the time to sit down and have a face to face conversation with The Other over a Chipotle burrito bowl or some burgers you cooked on your back deck?
Are you only spending your time shouting from the rooftops your indignation without taking the time to hear your neighbor, your fellow humankind, about why it is these landmarks bring them such pain? Why they believe, in their heart and soul (because they do have a heart and soul, as you do) that these monuments to their pain, oppressions, race discrimination, and ancestral enslavements should be removed?
Just because these rock and marble items don’t elicit these same emotions in you, does that mean that their emotions do not matter?
I humbly admit that until I learned more, listened more, opened my heart more, I did not understand it myself. I admit that I cannot, as white, privileged, middle class American, understand fully the depth of emotions The Other’s are experiencing.
But their emotions and their beliefs still matter to me.
I’ve learned that while a particular monument or flag may bring forth these strong emotions from one person of color or racial background, it may not bring that from another one of their same color or race.
My husband, Ben, is an African-American Army veteran. We have discussed at lengths these issues. The statues and monuments do not really effect his emotions. It is not a hill he would die on personally.
However, the confederate flag? An entirely different story. This brings a strong emotional response. The quickening of the heart. The reminder that his ancestors were enslaved by white people. That his lineage includes that of white slave owner and black slave. That not just tears, but sobs of broken bodies and souls mark the land of America.
Ben is proud to have fought for the freedoms of our country and works to serve veterans every week. He is, at the same time, very aware of the flaws of our nation, of the work that needs to be done so that all people can TRULY be equal. Ben is raw in his awareness of the discrimination, hatred, and persecution that exists to this very day in the nation he risked his life to fight for.
He is also the first to say that just because the monuments do not particularly affect him does not mean that the feelings of his fellow black friends and family do not matter. He will be a voice FOR them because THEY do matter.
So I ask this. Does the worship of an idol of a stone and marble monument or the cloth of a flag matter more to you than the experiences and emotions of a fellow human being?
Just because the general or the marching of a flag did not negatively affect your people group, does that mean that the people that were slaughtered or cast North from their families does not matter?
Writer and speaker Glennon Doyle says this about Jesus’ words to love your neighbor as yourself: “If every good thing that you want for your self and for your family are not the same good things that you want for your neighbor, then you are NOT loving your neighbor as yourself.”
Ending hatred. Ending division. Putting the atrocities of our American history behind us. None of that is completely going to occur as long as humans walk this broken planet earth.
Taking down statues and throwing away the t-shirt with the confederate flag is not going to completely eradicate it either.
However, living on this planet means living with every flesh and blood person who has been created equally as Children of God. As people of faith, we are commanded to seek peace, live in unity, break our hearts open with the compassion that Jesus lived His own life with, and to love and want the same goodness for our neighbors as we do ourselves.
Those commands come before monuments and flags. My faith in Jesus, your own faith journey, should come before that as well.
If I want to bypass that stretch of highway heading to my hometown, if you want to throw the pictures away that remind you of a friend’s betrayal, then we have to decide that relationship, peace, love, and compassion come before all those things and allow our fellow humankind the same relief from pain and increase their worth as a fellow human.
If people want the monuments removed so they don’t have to be reminded of the pain and history every time they drive to Target, walk to class, or shop the town square, can our hearts be opened to that? Can moving them to a museum to be viewed and discussed as a part of a history day trip be an option you can consider?
The Other matters. Stop posting the memes. Stop the snarky comments with only the like-minded thinkers.
Sit. Break bread. Close your mouth. And Listen. Then engage and dialogue and learn a little and understand a little more.