A guest post by Cristina White. Thank you for not letting the blog continue to suffer my neglect, CW!
“Thousands Keep Protesters Away From Funeral.” That was the headline on the back page of my local paper on Thanksgiving Day. The story, reported by Donald Bradley of The Kansas City Star, was about the funeral for Army Corporal Jacob R. Carver of Harrisonville, Missouri. Thousands had attended because, through word of mouth and Facebook, people had learned that Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist congregation were planning to show up at the funeral with signs and shouts ranting that “….soldiers’ deaths were God’s punishment for America’s tolerance of homosexuality.” The Harrisonville community decided they weren’t going to let the ignorance and intolerance of people like Phelps rule the day. Here is an excerpt of Bradley’s eloquent description of what took place:
As if a bell tolled a neighbor’s trouble, folks came running.
The first showed up before the sun Tuesday, huddling and shivering in the cold and the dark. Others soon came, and before long their numbers stretched a block on both sides of Mechanic Street in front of Harrisonville’s Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church.
People drove from three or four counties away. Buses arrived, bellowing exhaust into the cold, bringing loads of schoolkids and senior citizens. People took off from work. Some brought dogs. Farmers parked pickups nearby.
It wasn’t a fire, but a burning sense of what was the decent thing to do for one of their own who had given his all.
By 9 a.m., an hour before the funeral of Army Cpl. Jacob R. Carver, an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 people, many of them waving American flags, lined nearly a half-mile of the street in front of the church, making sure Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church/family congregation were crowded out, peacefully kept far from shouting distance of the funeral.
“This soldier died so (Phelps) could do what he does, as stupid as that is,” said Steve Nothnagel of Harrisonville as he looked at the turnout. “I’m so proud of what is happening here today. This is a community coming together. I know it’s not just Harrisonville, they’re coming from all over.”
The call had gone out by word of mouth and Facebook: Come to Harrisonville, line the streets. Let’s protect this family on this saddest of days.
By the time the Phelps clan rolled into Harrisonville, the only spot open to them was next to a Casey’s Store nearly a third of a mile from the church.
The seven protesters got out of their van and waved their signs and ranted their slogans… Opponents drowned them out with a rousing rendition of “God Bless America…”
….the Topeka Kansas group bailed before the funeral procession passed.
This account of people coming together to surround the grieving family of a fallen soldier helped my mind and my heart. It began a healing of a low-level sense of misery that I have tried to hold at bay during this strange time in America. It was misery brought on by the zealots demanding that an Islamic community center not be built in proximity of Ground Zero. It was sadness caused by the dark memory of the hate-filled signs protesting health care reform, and the people against reform shouting down those who had gathered at town hall meetings to discuss the issue. It was depression and bewilderment caused by the racist, homophobic, gun craziness on display during so many Tea Party gatherings.
The image of thousands of people creating a wall of love around the Carver family was like a balm for my mind. It renewed my sense of hope, the hope that first stirred during President Obama’s 2008 campaign. It renewed my faith in the decency of ordinary Americans. It reminded me that we are still able to act in common for the common good, and that communities can still turn the tide. A long time ago, Leo Tolstoy asked, “If evil people can work together to get what they want, why can’t good people work together to get what they want?” It’s so simple.
When I look at the powerful forces arrayed against those things I value and believe in, attaining an ideal world doesn’t seem so simple. And yet the Harrisonville community made a decision, acted on it, and won the day. They made it possible for the family of this young man to pay their last respects in peace. Now, when the worst tendencies in some are on such visible display, I give thanks that it has also brought out the best in so many of us. There were seven shouting darkness, and thousands singing light.