And now, the real Pine Street: Political atheist, agnostic, and questioner – under the cover of good tea and scones, Franny witnesses a great love in action.
Living in the big city, oddly enough, no one ever asked Franny directly about her political beliefs. Her closer friends there took it for granted that she agreed with them, and her acquaintances did not seem to care. It had been ages since Franny had been asked, directly, what she believed.
Yet her answer came forth without effort, and surprised even her. “I’ve never belonged to a party,” she began, sipping the good hot tea between statements. “But I vote in every election. I always vote for school levies and public safety levies, and I vote for candidates who I believe are telling the truth. That usually narrows the field enough for me.” She paused again. Douglas and Marilyn waited expectantly. There must be more to my politics than that, they seemed to be thinking, but no. It turned out there wasn’t. “That’s the extent of it, I’m afraid,” she said, and then to fill the awkward silence: “This is a fabulous scone, Douglas. Am I right in saying I taste some orange zest?”
They all chewed quietly for a while, savoring the orange zest in the scones. Then Marilyn said, “We shall call you a political agnostic, dear. It goes well with my atheism.” She smiled and turned to Douglas. “So, it is up to you. You were in the middle of an impassioned plea when Franny knocked. Please start over so she can hear it all. Perhaps you will convert us both.”
Douglas chuckled in a friendly way. “Perhaps. I do feel quite passionate about the current election. I believe in a way, our nation is at a crossroads. A crisis of conscience, if you will. And I hope with all my heart we choose the right direction.” He put his empty plate down, picked up his mug of tea, and settled into the wooden rocking chair. “I apologize in advance if anything I say offends you, Franny. I know Marilyn is beyond offense.” Franny murmured her consent around a mouthful of scone, and he went on.
“This is, in many ways, an amazing political year. We are ending eight years of reasonably good leadership, from a liberal point of view. Not as much accomplished as many of us would have wished, but a lot more than if we’d had someone else in the presidency. And, we have proof that having a president with dark skin and a funny last name did not bring about anything like an apocalypse. In fact, the country is far more prosperous and safe than it was eight years ago, by all rational measures.
“And yet, this season has seen the emergence of a strong, even reactionary candidacy that defies all reason. The more this candidate – you know who I mean, I can’t bear to say his name – the more he lies and insults various groups, women, immigrants, blacks, everyone, the more his base of supporters grows. They grow in size and in their vehement support of his hateful ideas. Why? We who think of ourselves as more intelligent or educated have to ask this question.”
“Ah, that’s part of it!” Marilyn interrupted. “We condescend to call ourselves educated and intelligent, making others who disagree feel they are insulted or demeaned. He makes them feel smart and wiser than any education could bring.”
“True. Mea culpa. Liberals have failed to communicate anything other than arrogance for a long time. But still, we have to examine why a candidate who blatantly lies – and his followers admit this – remains revered. Liberal arrogance might be part of the answer. But so is the deep streak of Calvinism that is in our country’s DNA. Calvinism – which claims that the elite, the chosen by God, will be known by their possessions and worldly successes. So, those who have such success must be chosen. And, if we don’t have a lot – if we are poor or struggling, well, then we need someone to blame. It can’t be our own fault. It must be those other people – the immigrants who take our jobs, for example.”
“Well, how do we fight against that?” Marilyn asked. “It’s natural, it’s human nature, to blame others for our failings. We all do it. And all politicians exploit it. It’s only that this one, the one you won’t name – let us call him Voldemort! This one, Voldemort, he does it more blatantly than the others. But they all do it. At least the ones who rise to national power do it. They lean into the television cameras and they say, you and I, we know. It’s all those other people who are messing things up. Let’s join together and we can defeat them, and I will lead us into the promised land.”
“See? Atheism rears its ugly head!” Douglas chuckled again. “You cannot avoid using religious metaphors to describe the politics you do not like, Marilyn. But I agree with you. Most major politicians play on our tendency to blame others for our misfortunes. But most mainstream politicians have at least used an acceptable level of subtlety for this tactic. This one – our ‘Voldemort’ – is more blatant than any have been, at least in our modern age.” He stood. “I need more tea. Marilyn? Franny? May I bring you anything?”
Franny nodded. “Yes, please. Tea and, I’d love another scone if there are any.”
“Of course! Marilyn?”
“Oh no, I am quite content.” Marilyn began to rise from the couch. “I do need to visit the little girl’s room, though, during this break in the debate.”
Somehow, without missing a beat or making anything like a fuss, Douglas brought Franny more tea and scones, and helped Marilyn to the bathroom and back, and returned to his chair.
It was at that moment Franny realized there was a deep love between them, Marilyn and Douglas. It might have been romantic love at some point, she thought, but now it was deeper than that. As deep as love could get, where his service to her was nearly invisible, and her gratitude was the same, but just as huge.