Finding Peace in Plains

This week’s Courier Herald column:

I wanted to be in Plains Sunday morning. It had been a rough week. It’s nearing the end of a rough year.

I’ve been working on a project in Southwest Georgia since spring, and this has had me traveling to and through Plains Georgia almost monthly since then. It’s been a great way to reconnect me to my rural roots that have long been ceded to time and the march of suburbia.

Plains is a town of just over 600 people. In most ways it is like most other small Georgia towns. It just happens that two of its residents are a former President and a former First Lady.

It’s a place where everyone knows everyone else. As such, most everyone is quite neighborly. They don’t know strangers. If you’re going to stay a while, they check you out and get to know you. My visits there are now with friends. They’re genuinely good people.

Their community was shaken this week by the deaths of two local law enforcement officials responding to a call. Too often it is easy to look at these kinds of events as another example of horrible news that will soon be a statistic. In small communities such as Sumter County, the news becomes all too real when you know people that are directly affected by unexplainable tragedy.

Officers Nick Smarr and Jody Smith were best friends. Even after officer Smarr received what became fatal wounds, he still attempted CPR on officer Smith until he was unable to do so.

One of the blessings of small towns is that they are generally filled with people who learn to rely on each other. Experiences are shared together, in good times and bad. Neighbors look after neighbors.

There were a few of my friends that I wanted to give a hug to this week. By Saturday I realized there wasn’t anything stopping me. And so, it seemed appropriate to be back in Plains Sunday morning, sitting in a pew at Maranatha Baptist Church, listening to the regular Sunday School teacher make a few comments on the state of current events, then deliver a lesson on the Christmas season.

I brought my Mom with me, who’s had a bit of a rough month herself. She spent much of early November in the hospital, and is thankfully on the mend. She’s known to give a good hug, so she and my niece joined the trip for backup as needed.

While the Sunday School lessons delivered by President Carter are not political nor politicized, he usually spends a few minutes at the beginning to greet visitors and discuss a topic of current events. He managed a word about the election and the upcoming inauguration. He’s planning to attend.

In case there was any confusion, President Carter did point out that he didn’t vote for President-elect Donald Trump. But he also made very clear he is praying for him. He went so far as to say that he hopes he has a successful presidency.

It’s taken me a while to figure out why I find comfort attending scripture lessons from a former President whom I share little in common with regards to political ideology. Yes, his political approach is different than mine. But his goal is one of bringing people together. He seeks unification. He is, in a very healthy way, obsessed with peace.

This extends beyond the peace between countries or warring factions. Peace as taught by Jimmy Carter begins within.

We live in a world that has the technology to bring billions of people together. These same tools are more often than not used to divide more than unite. Instead of becoming more neighborly, we are able to divide so much easier based on our differences.

2016 has been one of the most publicly divisive years of my lifetime. I look forward to turning the page on the calendar. I don’t yet know how 2017 becomes better.

My gut tells me that those of us who accept that we have a problem will have to let the solutions start with ourselves. We’re going to have to figure out how to make the world a little smaller. We’re going to have to reconnect with neighbors. We’re going to have to be more neighborly.

We have a couple more weeks until Christmas and Hanukkah are upon us. It seems like the perfect time to consciously remind ourselves that we need to slow things down, and make the world smaller.

To successfully turn the page on this year, we need to make our world smaller. We’re going to need every neighbor we have.


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