Saturday, June 27, 2009

Cornered Pockets: My Week In Words

♱ You didn’t sell your house to a Catholic?” he asked my friend. He pronounced my faith like it’s the vernacular reserved for vermin and not the verbalization of my venerated.

The hair stood up on my neck. The ire raced up my spine. I am a Roman Catholic. We live in a Roman Catholic neighborhood. Within walking distance there are 4 Roman Catholic elementary schools, a Roman Catholic secondary school, 2 Roman Catholic universities, and 2 Roman Catholic seminaries. He is a Muslim business owner who has immigrated to the States for religious and political freedom. The irony of his words alludes him; the depth of his intolerance does not allude me.

“The women are like Desperate Housewives” he asserted; I pondered. Which of my neighbors does he dislike? Which friend’s wife has offended him? Which neighbor has he deemed the unfit bride? Which of my brethren sat at his counter, tasted his food, paid his tallied, and now must foot a bigoted bill unaware of the hostility of his host?

I raised my chin. “I’m a Roman Catholic,” I said through clenched teeth with clenched fists. I looked at his child at his side. She is beautiful and bright. She toddled around his knees. Will she learn his oppression as she sits on his knee? I started to speak and remembered my place. He is not my friend. It was not my house. His daughter is not my student; she is not my charge. I forced my fists into my pockets and tucked my tongue behind my teeth. “Come to my restaurant,” he had offered before his offense. Yet now I must assume a defense. I will never step foot on his floor. I will never take the coins from my pocket to line the coffers of his bigotry. My mouth will never hold his food or offer him a kind word. I remained silent then; my anger remains.

I spent the night with contrition on my lips and a heart heavied with the weight of apprehension. Am I a coward? Should I have defended my faith with greater verve? Had I advised a friend not to sell his home to a Muslim I would be deemed a racist. I would be judged a criminal guilty of a hate crime. Yet where is the justice? Why is Roman Catholicism the last “ism” that is exempt from reverence and reserved for the punchline? I struggle with keeping my place in a world that has misplaced values.

I sat at a table with a soda in my hand, sadness in my heart, and the dawning sun in my eyes. The day had arrived. I met my friend to say my goodbye. I sipped the soda to wet my wordless throat. My masculine pride acted as a dam for my words. I said little; we made small talk. It was time to go. I opened my arms and broke my rule; I hugged my friend. I stuck my scrunched hands into my cargo shorts’ pockets and grasped my keys while I told myself to get a grip. I felt like running. I felt cornered by decisions that weren’t mine and consequences I hadn’t chosen. I slid my ass onto the driver’s seat and grabbed hold of the wheel. I backed up and waved goodbye. Two blocks later I pulled around a corner and guided my car to the curb so I could curb my emotions. I shook my fists at the air that I couldn’t catch with my lungs and scolded myself for making the situation about myself. I rested my fists on the wheel and my eyes on my fists and chastised myself for my selfishness. I opened my eyes and saw my sin and I took my open hand and I put the car into gear and I guided myself back into my proper course. Of course we’ll remain friends. We’re on the same path at different starting points.

I sat at the table and listened to his venom. He hurled his hate and splattered my soul with his jealousy. He jabbed with his jests and he stabbed with his sarcasm. I considered whether to wound with my wit. I wanted to annihilate with my astuteness. I am not a kind man. Yet I remain the kind of man who tries to try. My pride makes it a trial for me. I weighed taking a violent stand. I balled my fingers into a fist. I have a violent temper. My theological temperament just tempers my temper. Instead of throwing a fist, or pitching a fit, I stood up and took my leave and left the leavings at the table. We had argued before. I offered a second chance because I believe in The Second Coming. I had second thoughts for the remainder of the week. I had turned my face and offered a second cheek; now I’ll turn my back and I won’t give it a second thought or turn back for a second glance. Our friendship is in the past. I’ve passed that past.

We met at the coffee shop at our appointed time. I pulled my palm from my pocket and shook my friend’s hand. He offered his ear. He offered the right questions. He offered the right advice. He offered his friendship. I relaxed in the comfort of our camaraderie. I opened my fist and for the first time this week, I caught my breath.