By Graham Glover.
One of the many things I enjoy about writing ‘The Emperor’s Chair’ are the comments the readers post on The Jagged Word website and my Facebook page when my column is uploaded. This dialogue is great and is exactly the type of debate I think makes for a healthy society. So, keep ‘em coming…agree or disagree…let’s continue to stir the pot!
Last week, a colleague of mine asked why I enjoy this type of banter. “You are always provoking people” he said, implying that I like controversy. My friend is right…I love a hearty “discussion”. But his question got me thinking, why do I like this back and forth so much? Well, I come by it honestly. You see, I’m from Gainesville, Florida.
In Gainesville there is always a debate occurring between the progressive leanings of the University of Florida community and the more conservative leanings of the private business community, both of which make up this southern town located 85 miles from the Georgia border. Spending virtually my entire life in this great city, I have lived in and among groups of people that always seem to be arguing with one another. And I love it. I love the debate. I love the dialogue. I simply love Gainesville.
But what do you expect from a town that has one of the nation’s premier public universities, with a student population of almost 50,000? Education rules in Gainesville and this academic culture is at the heart of everyone who lives there, liberal and conservative alike. In this marketplace of ideas, disagreements occur…daily…and intensely. But in the midst of it all, one’s mind is constantly challenged, new ideas are regularly born, and the basis for a healthy society is put in place.
While the city and county commissions have a strong liberal leaning, private industry has found a way to excel. There are more barriers to businesses in this town than most of equal size, yet entrepreneurs continue to be drawn to Gainesville (whom I suspect will one day turn the direction of these commissions). Friends of mine who are insurance agents, lawyers, and business owners may feel politically frustrated at times, but their frustration is mitigated by the potential that this little slice of heaven has for the future.
Why you ask?
Because people of all political and theological leanings in this town are hopelessly devoted to their community. Gainesville is certainly not immune from the narcissistic culture I have described in previous columns, but even those who campaign against one another in the political realm are united in their common commitment to a better community for all. One sees this among the hundreds of young leaders who devote their careers to the betterment of those who live in and around Gainesville.
Sure it’s hot in north-central Florida. And the humidity sucks. But the lakes, rivers, and close proximities to the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico make the oppressive summers worth it. God’s creation is on full display in Hogtown and one is never left without something to do.
Even the cuisine represents the wonder of this diverse city. One can eat breakfast at Mi Apa, lunch at Sonny’s BBQ, and dinner at Satchel’s pizza, and in each of them see and taste three entirely different cultures.
Obviously Gator athletics are a huge draw to Gainesville, but one’s love of this town runs much deeper than a college sports team. It’s deeper than a spirited debate with those that disagree with your god, your politics, or your way of life. It’s deeper because Gainesville represents the best of what it means to be an American and for that matter, a person.
In this relatively small college town, I learned what it means to call a place home. I learned to love my neighbor even when I find their beliefs offensive. I learned the importance of debating ideas even when my “opponent” can’t stand to be in the same room with me. In a place many refer to as ‘The Swamp’, I learned that education is the key to the future and that our schools are the birthplace of a robust society. It’s no wonder that those closest to me place a premium on public service.
I have lived away from Gainesville for the past six years as I’ve served those who defend our nation, but make no mistake, I’m certain that one day I’ll return to this place that the singer and songwriter Drew Copeland reminds us is “a little like heaven”…