SALINA, KANSAS – A funeral had caused my sister and I to meet in Dallas. She had flown in from Denver and I was finishing up the last leg of a very long road trip, cutting the last week out completely. Exhaustion had hit as we walked out of the burger joint in Salina, Kansas, ready to make the final approach to Denver. A jean-clad stranger with gray stubble walked over to us.
“Would you come over here? I want to show you something.” Wanting to get home at this point, I resisted at first when he motioned us forward. That and the fact I’d never seen him before.
I must have looked dubious because he said, “No, please, I want your opinion.” His nervous eyes troubled me. “I can’t decide if I should call the authorities or not. They said notify them if we see anything suspicious.”
We walked with him a short distance and then stared in the direction he was pointing. 50 yards away I could see what appeared to be a frail man who’d tucked a rolled up blanket tightly against the seam of where the building meets the concrete parking lot. He knelt in a heap, his back to us, facing the brick wall. My first thought was he was seeking privacy in the worst way by making himself appear as small as humanly possible. However, he didn’t realize from where we were, he was on stage in plain sight.
I stared for a few seconds, then turned to the stranger beside me. In as gentle a voice as I had, I said, “He’s praying.” I hesitated. “He’s not hurting anyone – he’s just praying.” I paused and turned to return to my car.
“Yeah, but they pray before they blow somethin’ up,” the man said.
There may have been a slight pleading in my voice as I turned back to him “He’s just praying.” As I turned to go, the man snorted, “Well, you know, I pray.” But his attitude was defiant and to whom he was speaking, I wasn’t sure.
A few hours later I dropped my sister at her house and headed home. But for the life of me, I couldn’t stop that scenario replaying over and over. It had taken up permanent residence with me. And here’s what troubled me.
It’s true, there is an infinitesimal chance that the man could have been preparing to light up the sky. But as it so happened, nothing happened. The man was simply praying. I checked arrests for that Thursday and recognized no one. And, Salina, Kansas is still there.
It is true we live in a time where we must be cautious. We are inundated with news stories that create fear, much of it unwarranted. Still, scared people create fear, causing others to overreact and ostracize those who look and sound and pray differently than we do.
I believe we must hold to a simple fact.
We the people of these United States descended from people arriving on our shores seeking freedom. People who spoke no English, people who were poor, who came here for religious freedom. Caution is important, but common sense has to prevail in the end or we become someone we may not recognize.