‘What’s so funny?” Pastor Walter Mitty asked his friend and neighbor Michael Rosenthal, who had started chuckling during their daily check-in and coffee time a few days ago.
“Well, you’re going to have to give a sermon on February 14, right?”
“Walt, that’s Valentine’s Day; then comes Presidents Day; Ash Wednesday is three days after that; it’s in the middle of Black History Month; and the impeachment trial will have begun just the week before. How in the world are you going to cover all of that without going on and on all day?”
“Yeah, I see what you mean,” Mitty replied, taking a deep breath. “And you forgot about the pandemic.”
After ending the call with the usual “take care,” Pastor Walt felt anxiety rising inside. How could a guy make sense of everything going on these days?
“OK, OK,” he coached himself. “Don’t try to swallow the whole pizza at once. Just go at it one piece at a time.”
He decided to begin “making sense” of life by calling Sharissa Hawkins first, then Dominique and finally Miss Rose and asking them what Black History Month meant to them.
“It’s all about remembering the evil of slavery,” Sharissa replied with a hint of anger in her voice, “and getting white people to understand how that and racism constitute America’s original sin.”
Dominique answered Mitty’s voicemail message in an email saying, “Black History Month is an occasion to celebrate how far my people have come. Twelve years ago a Black president, a couple of weeks ago a person of color sworn in as vice president, and look at me — working in a corner office in the Loop with a view of Lake Michigan.”
“Pastor, you know me. I’d rather sing than talk,” is how Miss Rose answered the question and she began to sing softly over the phone: “Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod, felt in the days when hope unborn had died.”
“Such different perspectives on race,” Mitty said to himself, “and all three are Black. And here I am, a white boy from a small town in Wisconsin trying to wrap my mind around the conundrum of race in this country, and I just heard three people who live in the reality of Blackness giving me three different takes on what it is like to live inside their skin.”
He tried to calm his anxiety. “OK, Walt, you have two whole weeks to get your act together. Let’s see how Valentine’s Day can be related to Black history.”
He felt a little more hopeful when he realized that the theme of Valentine’s Day is love, and surely love is at least part of what it would take to make Dr. King’s dream come true. Thinking about love opened the door of his memory to the music he had listened to on his transistor radio during the ’60s.
What the world needs now is love, sweet love
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of
What the world needs now is love, sweet love
No, not just for some, but for everyone.
He knew all the words to Jackie DeShannon’s hit single. The next song on his mental jukebox was by the O’Jays: “People all over the world, join hands. Start a love train.”
Then the New Seekers: “I’d like to build the world a home and furnish it with love. I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.”
Mitty smiled. He was young and idealistic in those days. Living in an alternate universe really.
And that made him think of the mob on Jan. 6 and of eight senators who still questioned the validity of the election.
The concept of alternate universes was beginning to emerge in his mind, the pastor of Poplar Park Community Church realized, as he thought about so many Trump voters not believing that climate change is man-made or that masks can save lives.
Thinking about unity and alternative universes caused his mind to segue to a book discussion held at Bernie Rolvaag’s store way before COVID was even a word in our vocabulary. The discussion was centered on Bishop Desmond Tutu’s The Book of Forgiving, where explained that in his Truth and Reconciliation Commission there were four steps to the healing of South Africa after the end of apartheid.
1. Admitting the wrong and acknowledging the harm;
2. Telling one’s story and witnessing the anguish;
3. Asking for forgiveness and granting forgiveness;
4. Renewing or releasing the relationship.
“Forgiveness,” wrote Tutu in the book, “is nothing less than the way we heal the world.”
“I wonder,” thought Pastor Walt. “Was the good bishop also living in an alternative reality, a fantasyland like many of us were attracted to in the ’60s?”
He then brought up on his computer the service for Ash Wednesday and the confession he and his congregation had spoken so many times over the years.
Most holy and merciful God,
We confess to you and to one another …
We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We have not forgiven others as we have been forgiven.
Our false judgments, our uncharitable thoughts toward
our neighbors, and our prejudice and contempt toward
those who differ from us.
Mitty realized that he and Miss Rose and Bishop Tutu lived in a reality that was an alternative to all the others in the spiritual marketplace. That even science can be a good lens for determining facts but can’t explain why medical professionals keep coming to work when following the science would logically lead them to not show up.
“Maybe,” Mitty decided, “no one sees reality clearly, 20/20, without wearing glasses, and we need to view it through multiple lenses in order to see the whole picture.”Tom Holmes is a columnist for our sister publication, the Forest Park Review.