We arrived at church right on time, which is to say the congregation was already up and singing but we hadn’t missed any required sacred rituals or mandatory opening prayers. Granted, we were cutting it close but that’s part of the thrill of going to church. How late can you leave the house and still have derriere in the chair-iere without missing the Good News? I ignored the disapproving look of the usher as we brushed by. In the eyes of the Lord, we made it on time.
Arriving without time to spare also means there are only two seating options remaining. One option is the front row, purgatory on Earth, and an untenable position for someone like me who has been known to make a furrowed face during parts of the sermon with which I respectfully disagree. That leaves only the second option – the middle of a pew. To reach the middle, we must push past the faithful who cannot be inconvenienced by sliding over. After all, as their eyes make clear to us, they were here first and to the victor go the spoils – an end seat.
Just like on an airplane, the aisle seats are gone first, then the window. The middle seats are the last resort. Once on the end of a row in church, that real estate must be protected at all costs. Pushing to the middle to accommodate the latecomers (we WERE on time) means sacrificing one of the key benefits to arriving early – a quick escape at the end of mass. You’ve got to beat the traffic. Getting stuck in a post-services traffic jam can lead to the occasion of sinful thoughts against thy neighbor and must be avoided at all costs. This rationale justifies the aisle sitter’s decision to act in an unChrist-like manner and not slide over for fellow worshippers.
Grabbing the end seat is more than the dream of a quick exit after church. People don’t like being in the middle of anything really. How many times have we said, “Hey, I’m not getting in the middle of THAT!”? The middle is for losers and as Americans, we’re not losers. We’re exceptional.
The middle is an uncomfortable place. It’s a fight for the arm rest. It’s a chance to breath in germs from either side of us. It’s the mental anguish of knowing that a trip to the bathroom means surviving the trip over the legs of our neighbors all the way across the row. It’s called a ‘trip’ for a reason.
Being in the middle is claustrophobic. This is why I don’t want to live in the middle of the United States. I have always contended that I will remain on the East Coast because I need to be near an exit, just in case. The East Coast is North America’s aisle seat and I like the extra leg room the Atlantic Ocean affords me.
The older we get, the more we worry about our middle. We want less middle, not more, and preferably in 8 minutes or less. No one wants to look like the meaty part of the bell shaped curve when standing in profile.
Being in the middle is the most dangerous for small animals. For the hyperactive squirrel, nothing is worse than being stuck in the middle of the road. At that frozen moment in time when he stares into your soul from his pavement perch, there is nowhere he’d rather be than on one extreme side of the street or the other. The middle is a death sentence for the squirrel.
The middle of the road no longer exists in politics, at least not for successful politicians, defined as those who win elections these days. Spending too much time in the middle can be a death sentence for a political career unfortunately. It’s the fast track to being ‘primaried’ and run out of town.
The middle is also where compromise lives. The middle is where decisions are made. Yes, action gets driven from the left or the right but to survive, we need the middle.
As we approach the fiscal cliff, remember that there is national salvation in the middle, just as there is salvation available to those in the middle of the pew. So next time I show up at the top of your aisle with my family, slide over. The view from the middle isn’t so bad and we can live together in harmony. It’s the Christian thing to do.
As a compromise, I’ll try to leave the house a little bit sooner.