Kate Sarther Gann
Precision Toyota of Tucson, Friday, June 26, 2015. It’s the first service on Olaf, my beloved little Prius C.
The lounge I enter has three people in it, plenty of seats between them. After I sit down, I catalog them: 50-something woman in Birkenstocks and a “Grandma” t-shirt; bespectacled 50-something man with grey mullet and Columbia hiking clothes, armed in holsters at both shoulders; and an elegantly dressed businessman my age, working on a tablet, with a Chicago Bears water bottle.
On the flatscreen, tuned to CNN, the President begins his eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney.
A man in his 70s takes the seat nearest the entrance, resting his cane between his legs. He has a striking rectangular religious medallion hanging outside of his shirt. He realizes what is on TV. He shakes his head, flings out his arm in a universal gesture of dismissal and disgust, and leans back in his seat, eyes closed.
Guns, Grandma, and I watch the President. Business does business.
President Obama begins speaking about grace. He begins reciting the lyrics to “Amazing Grace.”
Grandma hisses, and fairly shouts, “I can’t believe he DARED! I can’t believe The Lord didn’t STRIKE HIM DOWN RIGHT THERE.”
Cane smirks. Business says, “I know! After THIS MORNING’s OFFENSE …” Grandma and Business begin talking. They are Christians and the marriage ruling is wrong—a plot, in fact. The President is a two-faced liar and not really even President. He certainly isn’t a Christian, and this is all just a spectacle. They talk about books they’ve both read by Christian authors that biblically expound upon what an evil man Obama is.
Guns gets up, juts his chin at the screen, and says to me in a voice that carries, “I wonder how much THIS is costing us,” and leaves the room. Business and Grandma nod to him as he exits.
The eulogy continues.
A Hispanic woman in her 30s with two young children enters. They sit together quietly, as if they have just had bad news about their car. A service rep comes in to see them shortly after, saying, “It won’t be too long.” He glances at the screen and leaves.
Another service rep, a man of color, comes in for Cane. Cane stops him before he can get more than a few words out. “This is a waiting room. You people have a lot of nerve having GARBAGE LIKE THIS—“ cane jousting at the screen “—and I am NOT the only one who feels that way. Turn it to a local station.” Grandma and Business voice their assent as Cane leaves.
I say—and I don’t think I am saying it aloud until they react to me—“He is the President of the United States.” Grandma hisses again. Business snorts. They return to their earlier conversation.
Mom looks over at me, eyebrows raised. She turns to watch the screen.
Every once in awhile, out of the corner of my eye, I see her nodding at the screen and smiling.
Suddenly, the President begins to sing. I’m not surprised; it seemed like he would have to, once he took up that theme, and given the venue. Grandma bolts up and yells at the screen, “SIT DOWN! Stop!”
I don’t know what is happening to me, but I look at her, hold up my arm in the stop/slow down gesture, and say in a voice I usually save for telling my kid to behave, “I have to disagree…but respectfully.”
Grandma sits, clearly fuming.
The eulogy ends.
Mom gets up, goes to the refreshment counter and says to the attendant, “I was so wrapped up in that great speech, I didn’t realize how hungry I was.” She sets down the book she had been reading when she first sat down and I realize it is her personal Bible (the silk page markers, the highlighter, the usual signs are there). She brings pastries over to her kids and returns for the book.
My whole life, I have never liked that song. Never, never. I didn’t hear it much growing up in the Catholic Church, but it’s fairly ubiquitous in the U.S. My mom loves it—many people I know do—and it was sung at my brother’s funeral. For whatever reason, it isn’t about the words, which I’ve never found compelling, but some kind of association in my mind with particular kinds of self-righteous Christians. Even though I am not a Christian, there are many in my life whom I respect, and they do not bear that particular brand of self-righteousness.
Amazing Grace, right there in the Precision Toyota customer lounge. It took the words and actions of some hateful people who felt they owned Grace, a woman with a dog-eared Bible, and the off-key singing of a President in an incredible place, surrounded by people of substance, speaking powerful truths about what many teachers, including the one named Jesus, have been telling us since the beginning of time—we have to do better toward one another—to forever change my mind about that song.