A simple country gesture, mixed with a little love, could override the fears being sown all around us
BY JONATHAN KIRK BROOKS
We are often asked to think about how dangerous life is now. If one were relegated to only television news-watching, they could easily conclude that all around us, people are falling over dead, and it will only be a matter of time before one way or another, you will too.
The last year or two have indeed been difficult ones. Many of us have lost loved ones. We have seen rioting, vandalizing, a pandemic, and a general lack of trust in our leadership on every confused side of the political aisle. However, as is often the case, there has been plenty of unpublished good in the world too. And as we are all well aware, “good” doesn’t usually make the cut when it comes to what will sell for news. And so, one must consume their news carefully. If we do not, the thing that might finally undo us will be the day we believe what the media is telling us about our neighbor, instead of being willing to walk across the yard, sit on the porch or at the dinner table, and begin to understand them for ourselves.
I've often felt in recent years like our people are sitting on the edge of their seats, just waiting for the right provocateur to taunt us, ready to argue and fight at the drop of a hat. Over what? I'm not sure. But is it just me, or are people a little less patient in traffic than they used to be? When I listen to the news, I am quickly convinced that everyone in the world (besides me and the newscaster) are losing their minds and that if I walk out of my door, or God-forbid, drive into a city, I will be attacked by a mob of angry people who do not like, and are not like me. I have come home from a long drive of listening to the latest news updates and walked into my home only to be asked by my wife, “What are you scowling and grumbling to yourself about?” To which I have had to acknowledge that I didn’t realize I was doing until she pointed it out.
Once you begin to act in such a way that your political points of view (or any points of view) are more important to you than loving your neighbor, let alone your enemy (as Jesus clearly wanted us to figure out how to do), that will be the end of neighborliness. And once neighborliness is gone, so too will be the life you and I have come to love, even though we have taken it for granted in this country. Because really, neighborliness, friendship, kindness, and even (or especially) the ability to forgive someone's poor decision in rush-hour traffic — or out of it — are virtues that keep our culture from unraveling.
There are all sorts of people in our county: Rich people and poor people. Conservative people and liberal people. Old people and young people. People who have learned some hard lessons and people who haven’t yet. Happy people and sad people. Healthy people and sick people. Blue-collar and white-collar people. People who work and a few who don’t. But it is a grievous mistake to believe what is being marketed to us: that every one different than you is your enemy and wishes you ill.
More often than not, around home — that is to say, around Owen County and its rural neighboring counties — when I drive down the road and meet a car, they wave or at least lift a few fingers off the steering wheel in a sort of rural people's understanding that, even if we may not have met, we are neighbors. And it’s kind to wave to neighbors. Even if we aren’t actual neighbors, we’re neighbors in the sense that we share the community, we share the responsibility to care for it, for its children, for what is left of its fertile ground, for its economy, for our elderly, for our sick, for our young families because they are our future, and if we don’t know each other yet, it would be fine if someday soon, we did.
This understanding is more than just a quaint “country-ism.” It is rooted in something very important and deep. It is rooted, perhaps in what we could most easily call love. It is rooted in love’s requirement that we step outside of our own manias and comforts for a second, even if it’s just to wave and acknowledge someone else on the road. Love might be the only thing that is powerful enough to override the fear that is being sown all around us every time we find ourselves sucked into the news and social media. It might be the only thing big enough to encourage us to turn off the screens and the noise and listen to that still small voice reminding us that actually, our particular loyalties to a politician, religion, or even a sports team, aren’t as important as someone’s hungry son or daughter, as someone’s suffering elderly parent, as a community ravaged by a tornado, as a neighbor who has lost a job or even as important as lifting a few fingers off of your steering wheel in that old country greeting when you’re driving through Owen County.