Wednesday night I found myself restless—unable to sleep—my head swirling with thoughts about all that was going on in Mississippi regarding Confederate statues and the state flag. After tossing and turning for a few hours I got up, dressed, and drove to The Square. I was the only soul there—or so I thought.
I strolled around a while, eventually landing my posterior on the base of the Confederate statue in front of the Lafayette County Courthouse. I was sipping on a café au lait and relishing the beauty of the starry, starry night when I heard the unmistakable sounds of grunting and groaning coming from above me. I looked up, and, lo and behold, what to my wondering eyes did appear but the Confederate climbing down from his pedestal! I was stupefied.
The pale gray soldier tipped his hat and bowed slightly as one would expect from a Southern gentleman. “Mind if I sit a spell, sir?” he asked. “I’m mighty tired of standing.”
Speechless, I motioned for him to sit.
“You got a smoke?” he asked. “I sure could use one right now.”
Still dumbfounded, I gave him an American Spirit and lit it with hands shaky enough to turn cream into butter. Johnny Reb took a long draw, blew out some smoke rings, and continued.
“Thanks, friend. My name’s Ernie, by the way.”
I stammered, “R-r-rand-d-d-dy’s my name.”
“Thanks, R-r-rand-d-d-dy,” Ernie said. “Sure has been a lot of commotion ‘round here lately. People marching, carrying signs, speeches and the like.”
“Y-y-y-e-s-s-sir,” I stuttered. “It’s been pretty intense.”
“You ain’t just whistling. Dixie.” Ernie said. “I’ll be glad when y’all get this thing finished and move my butt to the Confederate cemetery so I can be close to my cousin.”
“Your cousin?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “My cousin—Bert. He’s the Confederate statue on the Ole Miss campus. I hear they’re moving him to the cemetery. I wanna go there, too. I ain’t seen ole Bert in one helluvah long time. We got some catching up to do.”
“Let me get this right,” I said. “Your name is Ernie. You’re the Confederate statue on the Square. Your cousin’s name is Bert, and he’s the Confederate statue on the campus. And you wanna be moved to the Confederate cemetery at the University so you can hang out with your cousin.”
“Right. Me an’ ole Bert. Ernie an’ Bert. Bert an’ Ernie. Just like in the ole days.”
I chuckled under my breath. “Bert and Ernie. Sesame Street.”
For a guy with concrete ear wax, Ernie’s hearing was exceptional. “Naw—the Byrds lived on Sesame Street. Our house was on Elmo Alley. Oh, I see what you’re doing there, R-r-rand-d-d-dy. Cut it out.”
“I apologize,” I said.
“Look,” said Ernie, “I don’t think you’re gonna have to concern yourself over this too much anymore. Now that the Holy Trinity of the South—NASCAR, the SEC, and the Mississippi Baptist Convention—are on board for a new flag. Moving me to the place I wanna be ain’t gonna be a big deal. The tide has turned, and not a moment too soon. I was about to suggest that y’all build a wall around the state and charge admission for folks to come see the ‘Museum Called Mississippi: Where the past is the present and the future be damned!’ But I got one big concern.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Reconstruction,” said Ernie.
“Reconstruction?” I asked.
“Look,” Ernie said, “there’s gonna be a new state flag and I’m gonna get relocated. A lotta folks are gonna be pissed—royally. They’re gonna lash out at you and you’re gonna wanna give it right back. Don’t put ‘em down. Don’t call ‘em names. Don’t give ‘em hell. Be kind, or at least civil. If you really want unity and peace, you can’t turn around and put your foot on their throat. They’re your neighbors and they’re about to lose a fight that means a lot to them. They’re not demons. If you treat them the way you wanna be treated you’ve got a better chance of getting the peace and unity you say you want. Comprende, amigo?”
“Comprende,” I replied.
“Time to get back to my post,” said Ernie. He crushed out his cigarette and climbed back up on his pedestal. Just before returning to attention he looked down at me and said, “We are products of our past, R-r-rand-d-d-dy, but we don’t have to be prisoners of it.”*
…and that’s the view from The Balcony.
*Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life