My Confession: On David Shepard, Dickson County and Peyton Arnold.

I believe that there’s more that unites us than divides us — I believe that Hillary Clinton is absolutely right about that. I believe that nothing that’s wrong in America can’t be cured by what is right in America. I believe Bill Clinton was absolutely right about that, as well. I believe parody Barack Obama on the internet was right when he said, “You can’t fool my my country, man, they know what’s up.”  Like Dr. King, I don’t believe a lie can live. Not here.
I believe Rachel Maddow was right when she said Americans are loud and that we find a way to get ourselves heard. I believe John F Kennedy preached truth when he commanded: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”  I believe Bobby Kennedy was on point when he called America a generous and compassionate country.  I believe Nancy Reagan was eternally wise when she lobbied us all to just say no. She began a war we’re still fighting today. I believe Eleanor Roosevelt had the guide to inner peace when she said that no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. I believe, again, Dr King took haters to task when he said allow no man to pull you low enough to hate him. We should all be so blessed as to try.  I believe Nelson Mandela set down a guide when he said education is the best tool in which you can use to change the world. I believe that the Psalmist who authored 50, whoever it was guided by God, was right when he told me that weeping may endure for a night but joy cometh in the morning.

And I spent the majority of the last 20 years looking for that morning. And finally learned that that sunrise isn’t always in our time, it’s in his. And while I’m waiting for a glimpse of that bright ball of tomorrow peeking out from behind the clouds, I have learned to listen and read the words of so many that have gone before me, and I believe that they have great advice. I try not to judge a man by anything other than what I know about him and that’s not just some innate knowledge that I was born with or something that was gloriously acquired along the way, it was something Gloria Dump told me in the movie “Because of Winn-Dixie” and I tried to practice it since.

I started out as someone who was told repeatedly how much people appreciated my positivity on social media. My witty outlook, my self-depreciating humor. The way I was always willing to say, much like my president, “Yes, you can.” And then one day that turned into, “Oh no,  you didn’t!” 

I found myself unable to even answer the door to the pizza man on the night of the college football national championship with out finding somebody on the other side that I had told off online over Barack Obama. And while I laughed about it then as I handed him a $5 for a tip, when I couldn’t even watch the football game that night without getting remarks on social media about the political affiliation of someone who supported DeShaun Watson, I stopped laughing. 

The division has been blamed on the black man with a funny name and all of his “followers,” but the truth is, I’m probably not the only elected-class-officer-every-year-of-high-school kid who would have to hire pallbearers if she died and they buried her in that same small town. Not if she’s a Barack Obama champion. The battle lines have been drawn and I didn’t appreciate being pushed to the other side. I didn’t like how angry and how reactive I’d become. I’d pop off at the mouth and find myself thinking — Now, was that necessary, Candi?

And I’d wonder, why am I so angry and defensive? And it would come to me that the answer is because I’ve had to be.

The same people who asked me when I left High School in 97 what I was going to major in and I said  political science, answered with a wrinkled nose and, “Oh, gross. Why? ”  The same people that bought me a drink and yet never asked me what I thought of the invasion in Iraq or if we could have a discussion on Al-Qaeda, suddenly woke up, reemerged, and everybody and their menthol-smoking Granny had become a political scholar by osmosis overnight.  I didn’t come running into your machine shop and tell you the best way to rip apart your engine block — because I wouldn’t know. I can’t get an oil change or a cup of coffee, can’t start a conversation without being attacked by anti-obama paraphernalia and attacks on our nation’s leader. I’ve been accused of wanting all cops to die because I’m a supporter of the black lives matter movement and yet no one that ever hurled that at me ever took the time to find out that my step brother is a Williamson County Sheriff deputy, or that I’ve never believed in saying anything but “yes sir, yes ma’am” even when being cuffed. The fight comes in court.  Or that when Deputy Bellar was killed, me and my grandmother drove to the graveyard days after he was laid to rest so that we can pay our respects. I got out, found the fresh grave,  said a prayer and silently promised him that if any of “my” children ever crossed paths with his, they would know to thank him for the sacrifice of his father who was a hero.

See,  I don’t believe that life is black and white. I never have. I’ve always seen all the shades in between. While I’m certainly not middle of the road in a political sense, it’s also because they’ve moved the road, and the harder that we’re hit with the embarrassment of things like the Tennessee State Legislature, the harder we have to press back. 

Nashville has always been a melting pot of artistic talent that comes from all of the world. The blues and the barbecue that pour out of Memphis, East Tennessee serving as the home of our State University’s flagship campus, as well as the historically black colleges that pepper the Midstate, have always made Tennessee, in my opinion,  different than the rest of the South. A strong state constitution — that’s now been deceptively altered with millions spent to mislead voters about what they’re even voting for — has always kept sanity in place here. (Even amid ridiculousness whirling all around us.) We’ve seen commonness replace competency in our local and state-level politics. We’ve seen places like Dickson County split in half with rural counties on the edges added in effort to draw districts that represent the state legislatures’ desired elected officials instead of letting those towns elect their own representative. And they’ve done so just to oust Democrats. Even when those Democrats are well-respected, well-loved,  former military members who sacrificed honorably, and who serve God and His constituents every single day. We’ve seen the truth that the one with the most money to spend with the biggest insults to sling, the one that comes out swinging and hitting below the belt — even if it’s in the place of a lack of any ideas of their own, which is why they spend their time and base their campaigns on attacking the man who’s tried to make a difference for almost two decades — is all it takes to win elections. So when I read the words of a military man who had traveled extensively who penned his thoughts on how great Tennessee used to be and that, sadly,  judging by our repeated presence in the national media, we’d now become Alabama-lite, I knew he was right.

I’m not shy about telling people that I don’t believe that it’s always their love of Jesus that motivates them to speak out against gay and transgendered individuals. I don’t believe they stand up and ridicule others because of their love for Christ, I believe they do it because of some sense of personal revulsion. I came out of the womb with an extra toe and my leg turned around backwards. Do you think that there wasn’t a time that people looked at that and wanted to shut it away? Twisted-up babies, physically and mentally,  were institutionalized for decades and  not because they didn’t know how to deal with them, but because it made them uncomfortable. Society believed, and preached,  that God was all-powerful and perfect and made no mistakes. So how could he suddenly create something that was so deformed? That same society would have taken me and stuck me in an institution where they didn’t have to look upon little freak baby with six fingers, and it wasn’t God’s love that would have motivated them to do so. Just like it’s not God’s love that makes you deny the words of medical doctors and scientists that say that they’re beginning to discover a genetic link to being gay. In decades past, people didn’t like to look at babies with clubbed feet, now they don’t like to acknowledge that men can be born with male external genitalia and ovaries on the inside. Perhaps we should let that individual and their understanding of God decide which life they’d like to live.  Because we’re the United States of America — freedom is what we do and we all should have evolved.

I have two transgendered friends from high school.  One I’ve known as both sexes and one I’ve never seen since their transition. Years ago when I received a Facebook request from the latter as the sex that they are now identifying as, it took me a while to accept the request and to place who they were.  When I did, they sent me a message of gratitude and  acknowledgement. And we begin to talk. This was long before I  begin publicly taking on Dickson County’s racist writings and the DCC’s attempts to bully others and use the Bible as a way to do so, and they haven’t seen me in over a decades. So it wasn’t any of my activism that led them to know that they could send a Facebook request — and not as the name and gender they were in high school, but as their other account,  the one they reserved for the ones in their life that knew the truth of who they wanted to be. This person just remembered me as someone who would be kind and loving to them no matter what. They took a chance, sent a friend request, and, in return, I hope they found a friend. I don’t know about you, but that’s how God works in my life. And that’s exactly how I believe He should.

I’ve been attacked. I’ve been bullied.  I’ve been reported to Facebook repeatedly until I received a  3 months block on my account by someone who was copying and pasting my personal post to a group page so that they could talk about me, and then had me kicked off Facebook when I responded because they didn’t want their name thrown out and attached to their actions when I addressed them (they were on my friends list) on my personal page. I’ve never complained when people post pictures of their food every night, and unless you’re inviting me over to dinner I don’t really need to see a photo of what you ate. I’ve never once come to anybody’s page and told them what to say or how to feel, and until recently I’ve never in my life unfriended or blocked anyone. If I have a problem with something you say, or I see you repeatedly insist on going to public pages and spewing factual inaccuracies regarding our nation’s leader, I prefer to just tell you off. But I truly intend to do so with love. 

However, I never tell anyone what to do, say, or think on their personal page. I don’t “unsubscribe” — even though I ask everyone who doesn’t want exposure to the 335 articles of research I wade through a day to click unsubscribe on mine –because I do want to see the pictures of your family.  But one day, the cowardly gossip; the constant posts of things that you wouldn’t say if someone was standing right in front of you; and the Fox News fueled, obnoxiously inconsistent with truth, hate-filled attacks on our president got to be too much, and I haven’t read news feed in over two years. I just share what I want to say and I get off. I don’t upload things on social media for the 800 people that don’t agree with me,  I upload it for the 10 that do. 

And most have taken my suggestions — some after that suggestion was voiced not so politely, I might add — and quit stalking my page to continuously and forcefully and somewhat obsessively tell me what they think about what I think. Some haven’t.

I’ll admit that I’m not really proud of the reactive way that I snapped when I’m trying to watch Peyton Manning’s last year of football and I log on to share something about the game and I find that I have been tagged by a guy begging me to “debate” him and the 15 other like-clickers that are waiting in line. All because he claims that I  “won’t respond to his comments; won’t respond to his post;  won’t respond to his inbox or his email”  so he just decided he would tag me, force himself of my page, allow me –wasn’t that kind –to pick the subject and we’d have a public Facebook “debate.”  My response to his drawing attention to the fact that I ignored him was not a very polite, “Can you not take a hint, dude?”

The debate is over. And history isn’t up for grabs. These subjects are closed. Barack Obama is a US citizen; gay marriage is legal; the Confederate flag is a racist symbol, in fact, the “Confederate flag” we’re all assaulted with was never one that even represented the Confederacy,  it’s the battle flag of Northern Virginia which has become symbiotic with the racist cause; the Civil War was fought over slavery; hate clubs only feed my ego; and I fully intend on one day hitting the New York Times bestseller list. What is there to discuss?

Although, all of this has taken its toll on me and made me into someone that I don’t want to be. I don’t like being mad. I don’t like being angry. I certainly don’t like seeing my town portrayed in the news as people that have a personal desire to stand up and tell others that we think you’re going to burn in hell just because it makes our elected officials feel good about themselves. That’s not who I know my county to be, and that’s not who I know my state to be. Every time I’ve allowed those with the loudest and most obnoxious voices, as well as those with a borderline psychotic obsession for pushing back against truth, trick me into thinking that that’s who we are. Saturday I was reminded that we’re not.

Saturday I sat at the red light for so long that I begin to think that, maybe, I had Old-Timer’s Day mixed up and I was stuck in the parade. Then I begin wondering if maybe it was a presidential motorcade and my man with a tan was in town and nobody told me.  I finally turned around, away from the backed up lights, and made my way back to Burns. I already had my coffee, so I took the back way to the graveyard where I like to think and walk, and inevitably pick up all the flower vases that are overturned, as I find it impossible to not, and I found that the entrance to Memorial Gardens was blocked. It hit me that what had held me up was a funeral procession.  As always,
I said a prayer for the dearly departed, and actually begin to wonder if maybe a celebrity had died and they were burying them in Dickson County and nobody told me that, either.

Since I quit reading Facebook news feed years ago, I wasn’t aware that Mr. Arnold was sick again until I read it on the high school sign. Suddendly I remembered hearing Chris Norman say on the radio Peyton Arnold had passed and would be laid to rest on Saturday and I realized — I realized what it was I just saw.

I sat down on the floor and bawled. When I read the article that Mr. Gadd had written with words from Mr. Arnold’s parents, I could not stop the sobs. What I saw was what I have always known. The depth of the roots of the love that runs through this town.

A town that never judged me. A town that never treated this kid like she was any different.  Nobody bullied me for waddling when I walked, nobody asked me if I was a cast member of the “Seven Dwarfs” — and if they did,  they were just kidding. I’ve now been called names like “midget” online by people that I went to High School with simply because I’m a fan of showing respect for the president,  whoever that is. (Shout out to people like Carla Tummins Howell for that.) But that just wasn’t my experience growing up.

I went to ask a friend one day if they thought nobody made fun of me when we were little because they were scared of my brother,  and they responded, “No, I’m pretty sure nobody made fun of you when you were little because they might have been scared of you.” Touche. 

I asked another friend and she said, “Maybe people just always respected you, Candi.” I’m not so sure my experience is unique. Time and time again, I’ve seen stories emerging from Dickson County from those who are different, those with disabilities, those who might not look the same to the rest of the world, and those that have been put upon in ways that we cannot fathom, and those kids have been treated with respect, kindness, met with friendship,  and, in many times, much like my upbringing, actually become quite popular.

It’s why I push back and become so instantaneously vitriolic at any attempt to label Dickson County as part of this hate-come-lately movement. I don’t push back at using Jesus as a reason to bully others because I don’t believe in God, but because I do. And because I know the truth; because I’ve lived the truth; because I know the kind of place that we are. Whether it’s Dickson County Commission making idiots of us, or the “midget!” slingers constantly telling me I’m going to burn in the afterlife and I’m not a real Christian time after time online, or the friends that won’t speak to me when I see them at the coffee shop because of my stance on gay marriage. Or the friend from kindergarten that won’t even look my way because of my willingness to tell her that her attempt to label gay people as sinners while overlooking every sin in her own life is not God’s work, it’s just self righteousness.

I’ve been bullied.  I’ve been attacked.  I’ve been pushed around. I’ve been copy and pasted. I’ve been called the dumbest person in Dickson County, and many things that are not much more original than that. I went from being a former Miss Congeniality and someone who was elected class officer every year out of a class of 500, to someone who was the victim of seeing just how far “I’m not racist!” racists will go when a white person begins to speak out against their racism.

You know, I started to believe it. I  begin to bear the resentment. To shoulder all that hate and rage. And I always thought I was better than that, always thought I was the kind of strong that could turn the other cheek — I’d tell you off now, but then turn the other cheek. But hate begin to grow in my heart, and I want to apologize for that. For continuously being so combative and for starting to believe for a second that the people that attemt to make Dickson County something other than what it is,  actually represents Dickson County. They do not.

Sitting at that red light Saturday,  I remembered Dickson County for what it was. And I broke down in sobs sitting in my Memaw’s living room, looking up pictures of Peyton Arnold online to show my grandmother because she wanted to see what the “little boy” that was being laid to rest looked like. I said: “God’s love.”

That little boy being laid to rest looks like God’s love.

At least to one persecuted citizen that set at the red light trying to remember a time that this town once held so much of it. 

The string of cars, the police vehicles, the video I found online of the graduation ceremony. We are not red and blue; we are not gay and straight;  we are not Baptist or Church of Christ or those that watch Church on our iPad on Sunday morning.  Or those that never go at all. We were friends before we were enemies and some of us will never back down, we will never stop wearing an Obama t-shirt 3 days a week, we will never stop loving cops and black lives, never stop thinking that a man in a uniform deserves respect whether it’s a good-looking police officer or a black baseball player like Matt Kemp who modeled his resolve after the most persecuted of them all,  Jackie Robinson. Some of us will never stop saying that I’m the same little girl that you used to love long before you started hating me simply because of the skin color of the man in the Oval Office. I was still the same kid that you asked to spend the night with you long before we grew up and you said things like, “I don’t know anything about politics, I just know if you like Barack Obama, you’re an idiot.” Back before I reponded with some variation of, “Remember, while you were birthing babies, I was buying books, and how can you know I’m an idiot over something that you acknowledge that you know nothing about.”  Way back when you hadn’t yet said things to me like, “Don’t tell me I don’t like the president because he’s black, because I have plenty of black friends and they all think he’s an idiot too!” Back when I had yet to respond, “The president has a 97% approval rating among African Americans, and you can’t seriously ask me to believe that the 3% that hate him all live in White Bluff and hang out with you?”  Long before my willingness to speak on my truth got me heckled and name called and attacked, Dickson County met me with the same acceptance that I saw it showing  Mr. Arnold
during his send-off on Saturday.

I’d like to thank him for reminding me how great our home was and is. I had forgotten. Thank you, sweet child resting in the arms of the one who made us all,  for reminding me — for I had forgotten.

Acceptance, love and support no matter what. From beginning to end. That’s the Dickson County I have always known. It’s the Dickson County I believe in. I still, despite it all,  believe that’s the Dickson County that exists. I’m determined to leave it that way when my time on this Earth is up, too.

I find the way in which you view the world is the way in which you will meet it.  Won’t you join me in making sure that the way all of us are accepted and loved — is the way in which Jesus would do so himself?  With outstretched arms,  a line of cars, and prayers for miles.  That all seem to echo Jesus in saying — you are enough, you are loved, you are forgiven and you are accepted. Just as you are.

If what I know to be God holds up despite what I’ve been told that God is through social media,  and I actually do get to those Pearly Gates one day, perhaps I can thank that sweet young man myself for showing me what I so desperately needed to see.

Maybe we can even talk a little baseball. With #42 himself.

Rest well, Peyton.

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