The Followers

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The Followers

Earlier this month I spent a week at Disney World on a family vacation. It was a very special trip. My 5-year-old niece Emma, after a brutal year of chemotherapy and stem cell transplants for her neuroblastoma, was finally cancer-free. This was Emma’s big Make-a-Wish trip and since Auntie was there at her bedside in Minneapolis for the beginning of her chemo, I was darn sure I was going to be there at the end of it.

I was the early riser of the family so every morning, before the rest of the group awoke, I’d head to the lobby in the pre-dawn. There, I’d check my email, grab a cup of coffee and talk politics with the night staff of the hotel. It was a pleasant enough routine.

One morning, in the middle of our political discussion, a fierce riot scene played out on the lobby TV, muted in the background. My debate-mate immediately launched into his views of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the 99%. But we soon learned that it wasn’t an Occupy movement at all. Rather, it was some students from Penn State protesting the firing of their beloved football coach Joe Paterno, let go for not doing enough to help the alleged sexual abuse victims of former assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky. Now all these mornings in our political deliberations, my front-desk-man and I had not seen eye-to-eye on many things: Herman Cain’s alleged sexual dalliances, Mitt Romney’s waffliness, the future of Obama-care. But on this point we were aligned: where was the moral outrage at the predatory behavior of persons in positions of trust and authority in children’s lives? Why were these students placing the importance of college athletics over the care and protection of children? Did these students really understand the facts of the case or were they merely going along for the ride?

On the last night of Emma’s Make-a-Wish trip, we were standing in line at Santa’s village so Emma could have a turn on the big man’s lap. The line was snaking slowly but surely through the aisles of an auditorium. At one point two young children started swinging from the railings which were decorated with Christmas lights. The tiny white lights shook and clinked under their weight. I watched as a pair of brothers spied the burgeoning mayhem. With a gleam in their eyes, they, too, reached for the top railing, ready to swing with their friends. Their mother, who had been deep in conversation with me, turned toward her boys ever-so-slightly. With a roll of her eyes and a dismissive wave of her hands she said in her deep Southern accent, “You just followers. You know that? You nothin’ but a pair of followers.” The two boys looked at each other. They got a very sheepish look in their eyes. Finally they let go of the decorated railing and resumed their place in line with their mom.

Maybe those Penn State students could take a lesson.