The high school parking lot.
America’s blacktop proving ground since the Model-T rolled off the assemble line and into our lives. The place where lines are still drawn, sleeves still rolled and disagreements still forcefully settled.
So it only made sense that I was asked the combustible question, the question that packed C-4 between it’s subject and verb in a high school parking lot.
It was during my school’s monthly fire drill, as I was in the parking lot taking roll of my 12th grade class, when a voice trigger the conversation with, “Hey Mr. Armstrong, did you watch any NFL games this weekend?”
Looking up from my roll sheet, I find one of my students sporting a grin and a Philadelphia Eagles sweatshirt staring at me, waiting.
“Yes, I did.”
“So what do you think about the players protesting during the National Anthem?”
There it was.
The question that has set fire to the nightly news, church sermons, PTA meetings, lunch rooms, board rooms, hospital waiting rooms and Facebook threads.
In the last few days of my life I have felt an immense pressure to have an opinion. To choose a side. To litter my social media accounts with my opinions. As if neutrality is suddenly anti-American.
But why? Why do we have to have an opinion on this issue or other polarizing issues that have no definitive right or wrong? Why can’t we hold our silence until we understand what it is we are willing speak up for?
I’ve read and listened to arguments on both sides.
And I know that it’s our free-will, our freedom to choose that provides our lives meaning and definition and purpose.
But like we’re back in high school again, we let out impulses choose or we side with whoever’s voice is the loudest, scariest so we don’t get pummeled in the parking lot after school.
Be reminded — that it’s in these rowdy, rumbling times that we can practice patience. That we can choose to remain silent until we know what we’re willing to shout for.
We have the human right to nod and smile and retreat into ourselves until we understand what we really believe. What we are willing to stand for, or kneel for, or remain in the locker room for.
As our principal waved, signalling it was safe to leave the parking lot and return to the classroom, I looked at the student and said, “Right now, I don’t know what to think.”
He nodded, smiled and said, “I can respect that.”