I’m not a friend of panic, but I am an acquaintance.
Was August, 1968. My two clergy colleagues, Fred Trost and Herb Davis and I went to Lincoln Park. We held flyers that told the Hippies [not their pig nominee for President!] that they needed to leave Lincoln Park before 11 p.m. because Mayor Dailey had ordered it, reclaiming a 1918 law never before enforced, “Public Parks need to be left before 11 p.m. each evening.”
We got split up, but had a game plan to return a few blocks to our church at Fullerton and Orchard. I remember the horses, the police riding those horses. Then I had trouble seeing. Tear gas does that. I “thought” I would be protected, wearing a clergy collar. Suddenly got caught up in a fleeing mob, racing across State Street.
Before I knew it, I was more pushed than anything else, I felt it. The large show window of a car dealership. I could feel it bend. I lost breath and was seized by panic, thinking I would be the first to get pushed through bending glass that couldn’t help but break.
What to do?
Without thinking, no time for that, I dropped to my knees and crawled along the brick wall under the glass. I then got up and ran to the nearest alley. Didn’t hear the glass burst.
Then heard it, “Stop! Now!”
I turned, coming at me without pause was a Chicago policeman, waving his club like a band leadership. He could see I was clergy. My illusion of safety was shattered, when he took his club slammed it under my neck and lifted me off the ground.
This was worse than a car dealership window breaking. He let me down, I handed him a flyer, “Officer? I am the pastor at St. Pauls Church. We’re on the same side. We are bringing in as many of the protesters as we can, getting them out of Lincoln Park and off the street. Please know that.”
I don’t think he spit, but wasn’t smiling for the camera. Let me go without a word.
I walked and didn’t run along Fullerton to the church.
Passed our janitor’s house, he was sitting on his front porch as he had said he would, holding a pistol. He had shown me his firing range in his basement and said. “If any of those gd hippies get on my lawn, they’ll need a funeral.”
I yelled at him, “We’re getting them off the street; please go inside. You’ll be okay.”
He didn’t move. I went into panic again; didn’t want a funeral, for me or anyone else.
Got to the church, still shaking in fright, but calmed down as three of our oldest members greeted me in our church kitchen. They supported our church being a sanctuary place and had begun making soup—chicken noodle of course.
Why all this?
Because this morning, as my dogs walked me, thought of the full-panic time…and thought of our country. And didn’t feel good. Felt crappy. That’s as sharp as I can get. Heard all the mixed messages and saw the throng of people in London, not clapping, not in a cheering mood. Oh, my goodness.
Then Diane sent me a video, “Stand By Me,” and I felt the panic-for-our-country-lessen. Why? Because I believe, and I trust, and I value, that God will never leave us. Make that personal. God will never leave you or me. No matter what.
May we live in that trust and faith and keep the steps of our faith walking toward goodness and value, not running from trouble, and ask others, “How can I help you?”
Even if a club is not a baton leading a band.