It moves at a different stride than the rest of the country. It's a patient pace, steadily moving or stalling at the speed of trust or understanding. Time isn't a clock or a calendar; it's more like a season, the last time you've visited relatives, or who's currently in office. Change is generational and subtle. Evidence of that is seen on the walls of the restaurant downtown; distressed black and white photos placed next to present-day ones, shot from the same location, hang in its testament.
Athens is one of the oldest cities in Alabama. Founded in 1818, this railroad settlement has had its fair share of history. During the Civil War, or as Jason's great grandmother called it "The War of Northern Aggression", the union seized the town. The pillaging, plundering, and sexual assault of a slave would haunt its memory like the buried confederate soldiers still laying in wait on the second coming. Some of which are kin to Jason.
Before we were married, I learned that Jason White grew up modest; the fight to make-ends-meet was always evident in his fathers' hands and work ethic, a principle that proved to be hereditary. The age of 21 could not come fast enough, for that was the age required to be an officer of the law.
In the childhood game of Cops and Robbers, Jason never shied away from playing the less desirable officer in pursuit; in fact, he always insisted on it. His future has always been evident to those around him. Since he could barely talk, that child has wanted to be a police officer. His heroes have predictably been men who stand unafraid to fight for what is true. In his favorite book, To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch inspired Jason to stand by what is ethical, regardless of what's considered orthodox despite its injustice.
Officer White considers himself lucky. His Field Training Officer, Doug, was a natural lawman, a man driven by great instincts and state-of-the-art tactics. In his career Jason would have been justified in ending the lives of eight people. However, because of his training, he was fortunate enough to make the arrest without any loss of life. "That can't always be the case. I was fortunate." he clarifies.
Not long after one of the first shifts of his career started, the radio broke its silence. The men were dispatched to a harassment call in the business district of North Town, or Booger Town as it's frequently referred. Nestled between two dilapidated buildings stood an older duplex.
Knocking on the residence door, they discovered two 17-year-old boys were living there. Apparently, their parents had found out that they were in a homosexual relationship and disowned them. Due to the relentless bullying, finishing high school was no longer an option. A promise made to each other and two minimum wage jobs was their life now.
In an unsuccessful attempt to escape the never-ending taunting and harassing, the boys had been forced to move into town. An hour earlier, the wolves had been in the yard threatening to burn that house down. They had called the law twice; the two officers who had arrived earlier had declined to take a report, " You boys are juveniles, and we can't file a report without your parents."
Fearful, one of the boys looked to Doug and asked, "Can you please help us." Looking him in the eyes, Doug replied, "This is crazy. You guys are human beings and you should be treated as such. I'm sorry for what the other officers told you. I will file a report for you. We'll also hang out in the area to make sure they don't go through with that threat."
Parked in an alley across the street, the men patiently watched. An hour later, the unmistakable throaty sound of a couple trucks approached. As the sound got closer, the patrol car crept out into view. The compensative vehicles slowed to a crawl before noticing the marked car pulling out of the backstreet. As they sped up and drove off, the rebel flags mounted in back could be seen proudly waving in the moonlight.
Jason was one of the first police officers to come out in this part of the state. I have always admired his courage and honesty. When he told me this story, it reminded me of a question I was once asked.
"Can you think of a tree?" I envisioned a square at the bottom followed by three triangles shrinking in size, stacked on top of each other. The tree would be colored with green crayon, and the trunk brown. Embarrassingly, of all the beautiful and majestic trees I have seen in my lifetime, that's what came to mind first.
When our minds make a generalization of a tree, it takes in similarities from many different examples we know or think we know and combines it into an image. This simplification allows us in most cases to reach a higher level of thinking. However, it also can act as a deception.
Once we allow our minds to do that, specifically when it comes to people, we no longer see individuals; thus limiting our complete view and ability to see the trees through the forest. Like every one of you, I have my own biases that if left unchecked could evolve into words or actions. Self-reflection is an important part of growth. In the spirit of honesty, here are two conflicts that I have privately dealt with, and still tussle with on occasion.
I have long struggled with the Christian religion. For a majority of my life, it seemed that all Christians loathed me, and those like me. Old white men would stand in pulpits and use homosexuality as a base line of how wicked people get. I can still hear the congregation gasp at the word.
My negative thoughts toward the Muslim religion started as a Navy SEAL, where it was not only accepted, but also encouraged in some cases. Living in countries and amongst people who wanted to see you killed, murdered your friends, and did horrible things to women and children made equality in my mind exceptionally difficult. Watch FOX news, sprinkle in a little PTSD, and baking that hate cake starts to smell faintly righteous.
Racism and bigotry are overwhelming and mind numbing issues. The big picture frustrates me to no end. The only person that I truly can control is myself, which happens to be the best place to start fixing most problems I know.
When I think back at lost opportunities, to have my life enriched by wonderful Christians and Muslims, it makes me sigh in self-disappointment. We all have our imposed obstacles to scale. However, those who don't concede to them (allowing them to become words and actions) and continue to learn and ascend- are the ones that truly soar atop this life and inherit the brilliance it has. You may disappoint yourself from time to time, but never give up; I promise, we are made to overcome these things.