Every single one of them start the same.
Tap the gavel. Welcome to the (date) meeting of the (name of entity). Please stand for the Pledge of Allegiance and, generally, a moment of silence.
There’s a rusting of agendas and chairs scooting back and all around me everyone stands, hands to chests, worn and bent and stained ball caps removed. Our voices merge into one.
And sometimes the moment of silence is dedicated: to the young soldier who didn’t come home; the old fire chief whose body finally gave out; the mayor’s wife, 80-something, who died that morning; the board president still in the hospital though months have passed.
Mostly, it is just that: a moment of silence, as we stand with hands clasped in front of ourselves, heads bowed. The wordless shell of a prayer, now that actual prayers in public, municipal meetings are frowned on.
But you can’t dedicate a moment of silence to a sick man or a grieving family and have it mean anything remotely; and though we don’t say so, I read prayers in the bent heads, the hats held awkwardly in creased hands.
I always whisper a prayer for peace and good sense to miraculously fill the hearts of those men and women on the other side of the table.
Because a miracle is what it takes, I think on my darker days.
And most days that miracle is not forthcoming. Most days the sense of working together, of being part of anything, has vanished by the time we get to the paying of bills: just after roll call and approval of the agenda and approval of last month’s minutes.
We reach the bills and someone has a question and someone else votes no on principle to all of them, because of a handful of ones they don’t approve slipped in among paychecks and paving invoices and books bought for another school year. Some vote no on principle and the others, they deride that vote of contention, yet leave them all clumped together, the root of the problem untouched.
And if we make it past the bills? Next comes public comments. And the public only comments when they’re mad.
Potholes. Water running off the road, down front yards. Neighbors parking badly. Police ticketing their illegally parked truck, though they’ve parked there for decades beyond memory. Rules against chickens. No rules against barking dogs. Furloughed teachers – the best ones, and eyes fill and heads nod and the state budget is cursed.
Some are worse than others; some nights are worse than others.
So Monday, though I whispered my regular prayer during our moment of silence, I settled in for a long night. I saw the names on the agenda, the ones who go long and who generally stir up angry reactions. I knew.
Outside, the sun was low in the west and the air was fast-cooling and all in all it was a perfect late-summer night, bordering right on the cusp of autumn.
Two were missing from their places. The president was back from vacation, looking happier than she has been lately. I read into everything, desperate for a sign that we’ll accomplish our business, walk back out those doors.
By the time we reached public comments and he stood up, made his way to the podium, read his statement and his accusations, I sighed.
And I realized I’ve reached a bad place — where I don’t care what needs to be said or doesn’t need to be said, I just want it to be fast.
I expected others to spring up, quick and angry, when he sits; but no one does.
I don’t think one person argued with anyone Monday night. And an hour later I was back on the road, laughing out loud I was so happy, watching dusk gather under the trees as I drove.
Here, I think as the trees give way to open pastures and still I can see it all, is to little miracles.
Little miracles of peace and good sense and fast meetings.