Yesterday I stood in the midst of a rather large crowd of people in the city park of a small, rural town in mid-Missouri. The people in the crowd were Black, White, Brown, and Yellow, and not just in token numbers; if divided, there would have been fair representation of them all. One of the dignitaries at the event, who happened to be a man of color, asked us to turn and face the flag of our nation, whereupon we recited in unison not just a pledge, but a Pledge of Allegiance. Another man, who also happened to be a man of color, asked us to bow our heads as he offered a prayer of blessing over all of us in attendance and for the purpose of which we had assembled.
The mayor of the small town, a woman who might be willing to concede that she is entering her “senior” years, spoke to us, recounting the hard work and dedication of many in that crowd who had struggled and sacrificed to help fund the object of our gathering. I happened to be standing next to a friend of mine in a wheelchair, a Wounded Warrior, a man that had sacrificed more than just dollars in his wallet. On the other side of me were friends that belong to alternate lifestyle communities, and we all were surrounded by families with children, seniors, people from many jobs and walks of life.
The whole reason we were there was so that we as a community could break ground for something called a “Little Heroes Playground”, a handicap-accessible facility for those of us that might not otherwise be able to revel in the joys of childhood. The dignitaries gathered, shovels were symbolically turned, and pictures were taken. The crowd mingled for a short while with a buzz of conversation and laughter, enjoying the rare day of sunshine and warmth in mid-January, some coming over to ruffle the fur of my little puppy, Raleigh, as he romped in the grass at my feet.
As Raleigh and I retraced our steps back up the sidewalk to my downtown business I reflected on the fact that this event really isn’t very unique in our town; a single glance at the mayor’s agenda on most any given day would testify that there are a lot of community happenings. I would also like to believe that it isn’t unique to our town; I want to believe that the Republic I pledge my allegiance to is made up of a lot of towns, communities, and people that live much the same way.
Certainly the problems of a culturally and economically diverse population can be found here, just as you could find addictions and issues that cross those spectrum. If judged solely by the content of major news media or political rhetoric one might expect that would be all that would be found. Yet more often it is the blessings of diversity that are easier to find, and should the more be celebrated, even if they are largely ignored.
I hope that in 2017 more of us will look around with an effort to unite even while we may disagree, to bless and not to curse, to remind ourselves of the many good things that surround us every day instead of focusing on a few bad things. I hope that we will put our hands to the shovels, smile next to our neighbors, and capture each moment as the precious gift God has granted it to be. I hope I have the chance to say all of this and more simply by attending events on windy days in a city park. And I hope I see you there….