In the Richmond airport, I watched an old, bald, overweight man who open-mouth chewed his gum heave himself up from his chair, waddle over to a man standing by the check-in counter, and give him a thumbs up, one he pressed-forward twice, and then, once he’d made eye contact, point up to the red MAGA hat the other guy was wearing.
The guy in the red MAGA hat was also wearing a black hoodie that said NRA on the back and NRA over the left breast. By the time I got on the plane I found this man sitting in the front row of first class, and while waiting to board I surreptitiously snapped a pic of him with my phone. In my head, I composed a Tweet, or maybe an Instagram caption. Glad to be leaving Richmond, I thought. Or maybe just, Richmond, Virginia. I got to my seat. I had Neal to text, and another friend who was updating me on his happenstance stay at the United Club at SFO, where I’d eventually land. I didn’t get a chance to post the pic before the door closed and we started taxiing.
I know you can still use your data plan after the door closes. I know it’s not a barrier.
My routine on flights now is, as we start taxiing toward the runway, to stop whatever music or movie that’s playing in my ears and close my eyes and clasp my hands together and pray to Jesus. What I do is I imagine I’m in the old library in the town I grew up in, the one that was in a two-room building, with old cracked tiles around the fireplaces and a damp, musty smell I’ll never forget. Jesus—a nerd among his peers, a kid who ditched his folks in the big city and spent all his time in the temple just to argue with the older nerds there—sits over by the microfiche machines, and I picture myself walking around the corner and finding him. He stands and says my name. I say, “Hi Jesus,” and we hug, and we stand there holding each other. Then I ask him, in so many words, to watch over everyone on the plane and get us to our destination safely. Jesus says, “I’ve got you, I’ve got you,” and I feel less anxious about the possibility of dying.
Probably somewhere in prayer did it hit me that I didn’t have to hate the men I saw at the gate, even if I felt that I did. And I didn’t have to post the pic. I could post it, and I could spend the next day or do reopening Instagram to see the likes rack up, all 35 of them maybe, reminding myself I’m not alone in what those men made me feel: anger, despair, and a portion of fear. I’m afraid that, as those of us who’ve had power, privileges, and rights kept from us, punishingly, for so long continue to speak up and demand equal treatment, men like those men are not going to share without a fight.
A fight, specifically, with guns. Like, this week, in Christchurch.
I could post, I could get my likes, and then what? I tried, holding on to Jesus, to think about what kind of love it would show. Love for my friends, surely? But even if sharing hate for our shared enemies is a form of love it didn’t seem to be a sort of love that would feel good. Jesus reminded me that I should try to love those men, and I tried to imagine what that would feel like.
It’s the part of Jesus I have the hardest time with: what do I gain from loving men who hate me, other than that Christian brand of smug righteousness that turns me off from being a Christian?
I was flying home from visiting my parents, and I was reminded of my dad, who displays at times a poor imagination for the lives of people unlike him. Which is to say he holds everyone—regardless of their background, upbringing, or social standing—to the same standards he holds himself to. We disagree often about poverty, its causes and effects.
We feel differently about people in poverty but probably exhibit similar forms of condescension. I feel unqualified to decide that a person’s homelessness or poverty is Their Fault. But mostly I walk around feeling that the poor should be Pitied and Helped. I feel a largesse when I buy the Street Sheet, say, or hand over change. I’ve been lucky and you haven’t been, so let me share a little tiny bit of it.
But not too much, of course.
But back to the NRA/MAGA guy, and his fan. I know that pity isn’t love, but the closest thing to love I could muster to feel for them was a pity at how stupid they’ve been allowed to become. Who neglected you so much for so long that you’ve lived this long on the planet and come to believe the stupid things you do? And why aren’t they the ones you’re mad at?
#MAGA people on Twitter like to say that liberalism is a mental disorder, but I’ve yet to meet an intelligent person who believes that the president has done good things for the country. And even though it feels good for a little while, amid this time of so much perpetual stress and fear, to hate-post to my friends, or for them, for the shared likes, I no longer feel it’s any kind of creative act.
This guy exists. You know he does and I know he does. Here’s proof:
He doesn’t deserve your pity, and I don’t imagine he wants it. Scared, stupid men are dangerous, but they are still scared and stupid. I may not yet know how to love these scared, stupid men, but I’m learning how not to be afraid of them, and why not to hate them.