By Lisa Houston
for the man in the photo
Standing at the back of our town hall meeting.
The room is packed.
Is he tired?
But there he stands.
I don’t know what to do, so I take a picture of him.
There but for the grace, etc.
Weeks later, I struggle to contemplate the soul of a congressman in Utah who says that this man is spending all his money on a new iPhone.
By which he means, “He’s just whining.”
It feels like that’s all I hear these days, spewing forth in the bills introduced, the edicts that read like royal decrees from Mad King George. The words of an angry, illogical parent, possibly drunk, or otherwise impaired.
They’re yelling. “Suck it up, crybaby!”
If I had a better heart, I’d be crying for them, these politicians with lumps of coal where their hearts should be.
But I don’t cry for them.
Instead I look at this man and wonder, where’s his iPhone?
In the end, I decide that no human being would have the nerve to say such a thing to this man. Not to his face.
And that makes me think about insulation, about the cocoons of safety we’ve spun in our cyber systems, and whether, perhaps, they are making us less kind.
Face to face, I used to feel that I had a fundamentalist friend, or two. Opera singers are a diverse group. Thrown together by the freakish commonality of a blessing in the throat, we are Jews and Christians, black and white, short and tall. And everybody wants to eat after the show, whatever God you pray to.
But now, I don’t know.
I commune with one such friend from across the globe on the jetstream of our cyber society. She praises POTUS and FLOTUS for “bringing prayer back to the Whitehouse,” and I trip over her words as if a stone three meters wide has placed itself in the middle of my path.
I fall down, flummoxed. Injured.
Is that what you call it?
Meanwhile, I wonder if she prays for this man. And what she would say to him, or the millions like him. What she would say to his face.
Some days, I have to tie my wrists down to stop from typing a direct public message to this “friend” with a picture of this man and the Hashtag, “What would Jesus do?”
Because what would he?
And now I’ve put this woman in quotation marks, this “friend,” for the word has lost all meaning. She’s fallen into the abyss of someone I reject. Someone I don’t wish harm, but refuse to include in my company. Now I want her away from me. More than arm’s length.
In today’s language, I “mute” her.
But some don’t have that privilege. To push away those who would encroach upon them. I can’t imagine that this man wants to be here, standing in the thick air, listening to hours of political chatter. But here he stands, among us. And I have a flash of insight that this is the only way out. We must be there, physically, to protest, speak, listen care. We must show up. In person.
Meanwhile, I navigate my internal highways, trying to find ways of pushing this friend’s posts out of my “feed” without pushing the person out of my heart.
A faint echo returns from a decades-long journey into the void.
It's a memory of some silly family moment on the stairs, when we hugged, all five of us, and Dad said, “All for one and one for all!”
And with that I’m reminded: We’re in this together. No one is safe unless everyone is.
And through all of that, this man stands.
And I take a picture of him.
With my iPhone.