Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Dilemma

I’m facing a serious dilemma. It reminds me of Joe Butler’s plight so many years ago. Joe lived in a tiny rural town on the shores of Lake Superior in Northern Wisconsin. The town was too small to support two churches but it had two anyway, and two taverns too. But most unusual, it also had two auto mechanics, each with his own shop. Joe knew both men well, grew up with them since childhood.

Randy Hooper was the brightest kid in school, knew what x+anything was, forward and backward. His teacher said he should go to college and become a math teacher or a scientist. But Randy saw things differently. He thought there was no life like the small town life. He married June Breighner and started a business to support his family; he became an auto mechanic though his only training was gained in keeping his 1948 Chevy running. He read a lot of Whitney Auto catalogues. And he kept good books. In fact he became the treasurer for the town, for his church, the competing church, and bookkeeper for both taverns. He was a good man.

Dan Raatner, on the other hand, had barely made it through school. His family was dysfunctional but that designation hadn’t yet been created so most people just said his dad was a no good drunk. Dan admired his dad. He had been an auto service man in Detroit in better years and Dan learned everything there was to know about cars from his father. And everything there was to know about drink as well. He became a champion drunk . . . and an excellent mechanic, when sober.

But back to Joe Butler’s plight, and eventually to my dilemma. Joe’s jalopy failed him just when he needed it most. His oldest daughter was graduating from the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee on Friday and Joe knew the old car wouldn’t make it half-way there in the condition it was in. He knew Dan Raatner could have it going in half a day if he could catch him sober and keep him that way until the job was done. Randy Hooper, on the other hand, was a good friend, a fellow church board member, sober as a judge seven days a week, and a solid family man. He knew the folks at church would think him backslidden if he gave the repair job to an infidel like Dan but he was pretty sure that he would barely get to the next town if Randy fixed his car.

Poor Joe. He yielded to the pressure of public opinion, and the urging of his wife, and drove the car to Randy’s shop on Monday morning. Randy assured him it would be done in time for him to leave for Milwaukee on Friday. Every day Joe stopped by to check on progress. Parts were strewn from wall to wall and Randy, conscientious man that he was, was reading Whitney’s Catalog, searching for the best solution. Friday came and still the car lay in parts around the shop. Randy assured his friend that he would work all night if needed so that Joe would have his car early Saturday morning. And he did.

At six a.m. Joe pulled out with barely time enough to reach the school and see his daughter graduate. At 10 a.m. he sat beside the road waiting for a tow truck to haul his buggy back home. His daughter would send him pictures of the graduation, he was sure.

I think of Joe’s story every time I come to vote. It seems I’m often faced with choosing between incompetence, ignorance, or heartlessness, parading under the banner of morality, and what I consider competence, sensitivity, and intelligence in candidates my friends believe to be the devil incarnate. I feel like I’m being told I should choose to support a lousy mechanic because he is a good Christian man, and reject an excellent mechanic because he has some “un-Christian” characteristics.

I guess the thing I have to ask myself is how important it is for me to get to the graduation ceremony.

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