Mob Rule

I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.

The words are familiar to many.  So is the cynicism with which the words are often greeted.

That most famous of journal-keepers, Anne Frank, recorded those words at about the time she and her Jewish-German family were discovered and transported to Auschwitz, the infamous World War II concentration camp.  She would die there less than nine months later at the young age of fifteen.

Her words echo in my head tonight.  The optimistic syllables are set against a backdrop of gunfire and burning buildings, along with the sound of an angry mob.  One person started by throwing a brick at a police car, and within moments the car was destroyed and burning.

Color me cynical.

The mob will destroy and loot, and possibly kill, all because they follow their leaders.

Can any good come from the actions of a mob?

Last Saturday was just an ordinary Saturday morning at the music store.

Well no it wasn’t, actually.  I was exhausted.  And disgusted.

I had gotten up almost three hours early that morning to run in the local Turkey Trot 5K race, held every November.  A really late night spent standing at my work bench tending to instrument repairs for customers had shortened my usual five hours of sleep to less than four.

I hadn’t even won my age division in the race.  I had expected to do that, at least.  Some old guy I had never seen before walked off with my medal around his neck.

My medal!

I hadn’t won anything in the drawings that followed the race.  No turkey.  No free Subway sandwiches.  Not even a milk shake from Barnett’s Dairyette.

Besides that, it was pouring down rain outside by then.  That’s what it felt like inside, too.  Pouring down.

Nobody loves me.  Everybody hates me.  I’m going to the garden to eat worms.

The morning dragged on.  So did my mental meal of wriggly worms.  Ten o’clock was followed by eleven o’clock and then eleven-thirty finally slid on past.

I was (reluctantly) waiting on an old friend when my self-pity feast was brought to a screeching halt.  The nearly empty parking lot suddenly began to look different as, one by one, cars started pulling into the waiting spaces.  Smiling people got out of each car and, still shaking off the raindrops, walked in the front door.

One of them, a young man something over twenty years old, carried in a huge sign and a couple of glass jars. He set the jars on the counter in front of me, leaning the sign against its front.

“I need to just leave these here for awhile,” he said, through a grin the size of the Mississippi River.

I wondered, but I was working on a microphone stand for my friend/customer, so I turned back to the task at hand.  People continued piling into the store.

I finally looked up, wondering how the Lovely Lady and I were going to serve all these customers at once.  Suddenly, it hit me.

They each wore that Mississippi-sized grin on their face.  Something was up!

Two hours later, I was still stunned.  They all came for one thing.  Just one.  They wanted to give us money.

Give.  Us.  Money.

You have to understand.  I sell things.  Musical instruments.  Recordings.  Lesson books.

I sell things.  People trade their money for the things I sell.  Always.

Not on that afternoon.

These people had heard I wanted something.  Something big I couldn’t afford.  Well, at least, I couldn’t justify spending the kind of money it would take to get it.

A few weeks ago, I purchased a guitar from a customer.  Thirty-seven years before that, he had walked out the door of this same music store with that very guitar.  That was only a month after I started working in this store.  I felt a strange connection to the beautiful, ruby-red gem.

As I negotiated to purchase the instrument, he shared a bit of information which told me that this was actually one of the first guitars ever sold by this second generation family-owned store.  My Father-in-law had sold this guitar as one of his first ever transactions after launching the business in 1968!

I was in love.  The beautiful guitar, originally sold for less than five hundred dollars in 1968, would cost me thousands of dollars to acquire, but I had to have it.  After a couple sessions of dickering and bargaining, the transaction was finalized.  The gorgeous thing hangs on the wall behind my sales counter.

I want it to stay there forever.  The problem is that I can’t afford to invest thousands in anything that is not for sale.  I don’t have that kind of money to spend on sentimentality.

My friends, on the other hand, did, it seems.   They had all gathered for one reason.  They wanted to buy the guitar.  For me and the Lovely Lady.  To keep forever.

By the time I had shaken the last hand and hugged the last neck, there was almost two thousand dollars in the jars on that counter.  To say that I am humbled and grateful is less than an understatement.  I am still stunned.

But, the guitar stays.

It stays.

I’m imagining the looks of confusion on the faces of those reading this.  By now, the reader undoubtedly wants to know what the story of the guitar has to do with my opening statement.

I suppose a little perspective might be in order.  I’ll do my best.

My friends had a name for what they did for me on Saturday.  The name was written in big green letters on the sign the young man had leaned against my counter.

Cash Mob.

That’s right.  A mob.  A group of people that feeds off the example of others around them and follows their lead.

I asked the question earlier.  I ask it again.

Can any good come from the actions of a mob?

I’m still a cynic.  But, on Saturday at least, a day that started out wrong turned out right.

I’m also remembering another mob that gathered one night.  It was over two thousand years ago.  A Man died because of that mob.  The course of history was changed because of it.

Could any good come from that?

The answer speaks for itself.  Only the greatest good mankind has ever encountered.  Only the opportunity for us to experience what could never have happened without the actions of that unruly and vicious mob.  In the strangest manner and from the worst circumstances–Grace and Life!

I don’t see the end of the actions of tonight’s mob.  I honestly don’t see how it can come to any positive conclusion.

Perhaps, I’m not the right person to ask about it.

Are you talking to the right Expert on mobs?

I’ve got a few questions I’m going to be asking Him tonight.

You too?

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
(Genesis 50:20 ~ NIV)

“It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical.  Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.
It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering, and death.  I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness; I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too; I feel the suffering of millions.  And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better; that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.”
(The Diary of Anne Frank, entry July 15, 1944 ~ Anne Frank ~ German Jew/Nazi victim ~ 1929-1945)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2014. All Rights Reserved.

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