Opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the author.
It’s getting hot out there. After months of winter and a brief flirtation with spring, we’ve lurched directly into summer. Strawberries, plump and red, are appearing in local markets. Captivated by their color and the promise of flavor, I purchase an entire flat, along with an angel food cake from an Amish bakery. Slabs of cake will be layered with juicy berries, then topped with whipped cream (real, of course) from a nearby creamery.
It’s getting hot out there. Even in flyover country where hardworking citizens pay their taxes, raise their kids, and live their ordinary lives, the heat is nearly unbearable, and by heat, I mean the rancor and strife in the national conversation. The civility that used to govern public discourse is a rare commodity now, and America is hurting from its loss.
The word civility comes from the Latin word civilis, which means “relating to public life; befitting a citizen.” Herein lies the compass that can help us find our way. As citizens of this country, we have a duty to comport ourselves honorably, to treat our fellow citizens with respect. Those of us who are citizens of a heavenly kingdom have an even greater responsibility, for we represent not only an earthly country, but a higher one.
How does it look in this darkening age where evil no longer hides, but trumpets loudly in the streets? How does it work in the face of deep ideological differences?
“Be tough on the issues, but gentle with people.” This is what I have learned. As one small American mom, it seems there’s so little I can do to change the course of a nation, but this, I can do—I can be gentle and loving (i.e., civil) to those nearby. To illustrate how I live this out, I offer the following story. It happened last year.
We step inside the doors. It’s busy tonight at Chick-fil-A. The line is long. Just before me, two young men step into place. They are lean, muscular, fit, and dressed in very tight, tiny clothes.
“It’s so hot,” says the fellow in flamboyant glasses. “I need a napkin.” He disappears, then returns with a napkin. He is mopping his face.
“We have a 16-year-old who’s workin’ the fair in this heat,” I volunteer, and his friend who’s just in front of me, he smiles.
“He oughta be getting double pay,” he says, and I’m laughing.
“Glasses” drops to the floor in that long, long line and rests his back against the wall. He’s truly suffering from the heat, and so I bend low. “Do you need some water?” I ask.
“No, it’s fine. I’ll get some.” But soon he rises and makes his way to a quiet corner where he can sit and rest. As always, my maternal heart is stirring.
I leave my place in line and approach the counter. “There’s a customer over there who needs some ice water. Could I have a cup, please?” The girl at the drink machine nods and hands me a glass of ice water and a straw.
I carry it over to Glasses. “Thank you!” he says, accepting it gratefully.
Looking into his face, I tell him, “I’m the mother of four boys. I love it when other mothers look out for my sons, so I am doing this for your mother.”
Ah, his face. It’s smiling and warm, and my heart is expanding right there. I run my maternal checks. Heat is hard for him, he’s got asthma, he has an inhaler, it’s out in the car, and he’ll be okay for now. Feeling assured, I leave him.
I return to the line. The other half of the pair is still holding their place. Looking at him, I say, “I took your friend some water. I love it when others look out for my boys, so I told him I’m doing it for his mother.” Now his face is smiling, and the old woman just ahead, she’s listening.
“Is your mother still alive?” I say to the lanky, lean, young man. He hesitates. His eyes drop down to the floor. A pause, and then a quiet, “Yes.”
“Do you talk to her?” Another pause. He is quiet, wrestling.
“I don’t really like to answer questions,” he says, and I’m smiling again.
“That’s okay. I just want you to know that there are mothers who love other mothers’ kids.” And the old woman standing on the other side of him, she says it, too. “That’s right!”
For a brief moment, all else fades away. The young man in pink, he is sandwiched by Love. My soul feels the import and the Presence.
He gets their food, and we order ours. As my husband lingers to pay, I slip over to the table where the two young men are eating. Sitting down in front of them, I look into their eyes. “There is something special about you. I want you to know that there’s a mother in this world who loves you.”
I speak to them of things dear to my heart, and their own hearts and ears, they are open. At my request, they tell me their names, and then this tiny, fearless mother explains it. “This is how it works. When I meet people like this, I get their names, and months later when they come to my mind, I pray for them.”
They are grinning. They are happy and hopeful, and so am I.
We finish our dinner, they finish theirs, and with waves and smiles, we part ways. On the way home, my quiet, wise husband says to me, “As soon as I saw them, I knew what was going to happen.” His face is alight, there’s light in my heart, and I know I’ll remember those boys.
True civility doesn’t begin with politics. It begins in the heart. I can and should strongly oppose evil, but if I hate another human being, I have lost my very soul. That is a price too costly to pay. As a citizen of heaven, such love, even in opposition, is my duty, my mission, my joy.
May God bless America. May her citizens choose a love for Him and their fellowman that stems evil’s tide and brings some heaven down to earth.
You can hear America’s small, caffeinated mom every Saturday morning on 77 WABC. Every week, she and Bo Snerdley discuss the week’s essay and other topics of interest.