A Hug on a Porch; Hope for us all?

It started with an awkward hello and ended with an embrace between two 60 something year old men on a porch in northern Michigan.   In between was a chance for two strangers from different countries to share some thoughts and some raw emotions about the United States in 2018.

My wife and I start most of our mornings on the porch of our house with a cup of tea or coffee.  I’d like to say it’s a chance to get some fresh air and catch up before the day begins, but really we just like watching people driving to work while we enjoy our summers off.  It’s a tiny, and mostly harmless, exercise in shadenfreude watching people balancing coffee cups on their knee and applying makeup or texting away as they race down the street trying to get to work on time.

Before I get to the awkward hello, I should express my aversion to being approached by strangers.  Ever since I started writing columns in the Petoskey News Review until a couple of years ago, and now doing the same in the Northern Express, I get occasional threatening emails from people who don’t take a liking to having their “Christian” values challenged.  During 2017’s orgasmic celebration of the Trump inauguration I only received four death threats in reaction to my dismay over that awful January 20th.  So when people come up to me on the street or in a restaurant and ask if I’m Mark Pontoni, I routinely answer with a cautious “maybe.”  I never know if I’m going to get punched, shot, or patted on the back.

Consequently, when I noticed a man standing on my sidewalk looking at our house as we enjoyed our morning porch session, I shot out a less than friendly “Hello?” his way.  He awkwardly returned the hello and walked off. My wife reminded me for the umpteenth time that I could be a little more friendly (as if I didn’t know my character flaws already) and suggested he was just reading one of the lawn signs in our yard.  I apologized for the umpteenth time (as if she thinks I’m really ever going to change) and we went on with our morning routine.

About twenty minutes later I heard a knock on the door and went downstairs to see the same man now standing on my porch.  Luckily he wasn’t African-American so I didn’t have to go grab my gun, but I was a bit concerned.  If he really was reading our sign, he knew we were goddamned liberals.  We believe Black Lives Matter, and Science is Real, and Women’s Rights are Human Rights.  You know, all the things “Christians” just can’t stand.

He, however, was not a threat.  He started by apologizing for not stopping and talking earlier.  (I thought to myself, what is this guy, Canadian?  Always apologizing.)  It turns out, he is from Alberta and is visiting his daughter who lives in town.  He said he was so glad to see our sign and just had to talk to someone about his angst.  He claims to have had trouble sleeping for the past few days after finding out his son-in-law was a Trump supporter.  He rattled off a list of questions that I know he didn’t expect answers to as he tried to reconcile how his son-in-law, who claims to be Christian, could find any room in his heart for Trump.  “Your President has committed all the seven deadly sins, hasn’t he?” he asked.

I empathized with his angst, and apologized for my country.  We have done a terrible thing to ourselves and to our world; as a citizen, I feel obligated to apologize for our greed, racism, and stupidity.  My wife soon joined us on the porch and for a half hour we traded stories and concerns.  As he returned to discussing his son-in-law, tears came to his eyes.  He knows his daughter is living with, and his grandchildren are being raised by, a fraud.

Like most thinking people, he knows that no true Christian could ever support Trump.  There is simply no connection between the teachings of Jesus Christ and the behavior of Trump: personally, politically, or administratively.  It’s easy to identify the fraud, condemn it in others, and shake your head in despair.  It’s undoubtedly a lot harder to come to grips with the reality that your progeny are subjected daily to the poisoned fruit of this fraud.

He went on to talk about history and realities of fascism in Europe.  He was born in the Netherlands and told us that he can recall the bullet pocked walls of building in his town.  He genuinely fears that we are headed down that very same path, and if he was looking for an argument from me, he came to the wrong porch.

As he was getting ready to leave, he stuck his hand out to shake.  But as I looked into his eyes which were still moist, I reached out and embraced him.  The courage it took for him to approach us, and only feeling safe to do so because of that sign, deserved more than a simple handshake.  After he left, I fell into a bit of a funk, but my wife, as she usually does, found this to be a shining moment.  While I commiserated on the shame Trump and his supporters have brought to our country, she pointed out how wonderful it was that people are motivated enough to find kindred spirits and to share our stories.  Without that, she correctly points out, there can be no genuine change.

If you’re ever doubting the effectiveness of your resistance or are frustrated that change is not happening fast enough, picture the two sixty-something year old men embracing on a porch in northern Michigan.  Reaching out, being vocal, protesting, screaming into the wilderness…all of it matters until we can get our country back, and then a guy from Alberta can stop being afraid, and a guy from Petoskey can go back to loving his country.

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2 Comments on “A Hug on a Porch; Hope for us all?”

  1. Maggie Neptune July 11, 2018 at 12:06 pm #

    Mark, You don’t have to go back to loving your country – you love it immensely now and always have done. That’s why you’re angry and frustrated and shocked and wanting to get out of the real swamp asap. There’s a difference between love and pride. I love the USA too – I’m just not too proud of us right now. Thank you for all you do to get us motivated and remind us that we must, must, must resist and never give up. Maggie


  1. Another Hug; Another Smile | The Grumblings - August 16, 2018

    […] Maybe this hugging thing is getting out of hand.   I received a great deal of positive feedback from my story a couple of weeks ago about a hug on my front porch shared with a man who was frustrated with his son-in-law’s support of Trump.  You can read that original post here. […]

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