Hard Candy: The Greatest is Love

By Cathy Salustri

 I don’t have TV. I have a television, but I don’t get broadcast or cable, which, aside from a few episodes of Deadliest Catch and Bones, I really don’t miss. After all, I have Facebook and 476 other web-based diversions to keep me from being a productive member of society.

 It was just dumb luck, then, that I was housesitting for my friend Kelli when that hideous woman killed her children last month. Kelli, you see, has many television sets, including one in her laundry room. I’m not a TV freak- I spent my non-working hours largely in Kelli’s hot tub- but by Friday afternoon the ubiquitous black boxes had taunted me sufficiently that I decided to see what was on.

 It was a tough choice between Judge Judy, a less-than-wholesome collection of adult films about young girls and the pizza delivery guy, and the news, but I chose the news just in time to see the Tampa police walk Julie Scheneker to the squad car.

 There’s an Anne Murray song called A Little Good News, and when I’m feeling sappy I liken that song to the Gabber. We report on our share of the ugly, but I like to think our readers get a little good news, too, when they flip open the paper on Thursday morning. Our management operates on the precept that, despite the hideous world events swirling around us, we are a community. A good community.

 I watched the cops walk this monster of a woman to the squad car and heard that song in my head.

 Of course, because we are human and have an apparent endless capacity for evil, the story doesn’t end there. The Westboro Baptist Church out of Topeka, Kansas- a lovely group of self-declared “primitive baptists” – issued a press release last week announcing their intent to picket the funeral because Colonel Scheneker was “off playing bloody war games, fighting for same sex marriage.” The “church” further insinuates that the children deserved to die, saying that “God sent the shooter to Tampa.”

 Not my god.

 We don’t need to get theological here. In my world, my higher power doesn’t send people to hurt other people; I like to think that the Universe is more based in love. My sort of god sends the other type of folk- folks like the Florida West Coast Riders, who put out a call to go shield the mourning teens and family from these hate-filled freaks by surrounding the mourners with a human shield and curtain of American flags.

 In the end, all the craziness made me think about Gulfport and St. Pete Beach and, well, my own life. It puts our problems in perspective, and we all need a perspective adjustment now and then. I know that in the dead of winter when it feels like it’s been months since I’ve been out on the water, I start to lose perspective. Little things become big things. I get worked up over things that don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. I start to feel like every council meeting attend has UN-level importance.

 Then I get out on the water and clear my head. That’s when I remember that the PACE program, height restrictions on St. Pete Beach, and, yes, even Clam Bayou are, in the grand scheme of the Universe, little things. I promise. I’m not saying they aren’t important, I’m not saying they aren’t worthy of strong convictions and strong actions. I’m saying that what it really comes down to it, there are only a couple things that matter. You need air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat, and a roof over your head.

 And love. You need love. It’s Valentines’ Day, or at least it will be Monday. I’m not talking about love like you see in the movies. I’m talking about a love that’s far simpler; I’m talking about the undercurrent of love that lies beneath us all, connecting us in a communal web.

 You see, we have our problems. We’ll put high rises wherever we can get away with it, and we’ll pick at each other in a city meeting until blood runs freely from the dais to the back door. We will insult one another and be hideous to each other and make each other crazy. We will leave city hall meetings cursing each other. We will make snarky remarks about one another; we will insult each other.

 But we love each other.

 Go ahead, laugh if you must. But we do. No, it’s not a romantic love. It’s not the type of love they make movies about; at least, not the happy Jennifer Aniston/Ben Stiller romantic comedies. Our love can be a little more, shall we say, Quentin Tarantino.

 Let me put it this way: I make a lot of you angry. I’ve called some of you nut bars. I’ve called your protests empty. I’ve poked at you. I’ve mocked you. You’ve slammed me, railed against me, derided me. We all make each other angry sometimes; I’ve seen arguments after council and on the street. I’ve heard of nasty phone calls and threats. But I believe this:

 At the end of the day, no matter what, we love each other. Definitely not romantically. No, our love is more like an old couple, bickering over the price of beef. We argue. We call each other names. We may even make obscene gestures at one another.

 But I believe that when it really mattered – say, if the hate group was showing its face around the edges of our community – that every one of us would do exactly what the West Coast Riders did last week. We would shield any one of us from that level of hatred and protect them. The bitterest enemies would join hands to protect their community.

 I know you would. It’s what keeps us strong. It’s what separates us from the larger communities. We believe, like that group of bikers, that hate should never be the largest thing in the Universe. It’s what makes us, us.

 If you’re a Christian, good for you. It’s adamantly not my thing. But the greatest words I know of love come from the Bible and if you, like me, don’t really go in for all that, I beg your indulgence. If you’re a believer, well, you probably know what’s coming next.

 “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

 Rather than go on about what that means, I’ll leave you with that. I’ve always said the point of this column is for you to think. Think. Because that, to me, speaks of our community. We bear, believe, hope and endure all things. We love.

 It’s who we are.

Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com or join her on her Facebook page, Cathy Salustri’s Hard Candy.

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I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.