I’ve never liked crowds, except at church. Since overflow congregations have occured fairly rarely in my experience, that means I haven’t had to contend with many really big crowds — but it also means I choose to avoid some things that many other folks really enjoy.
College football games, for example. I grew up as a Georgia Bulldog fan, and went to a number of games while in college and living on campus, but have attended only a couple since. Negotiating traffic as eighty or ninety thousand other fans converge on the highways is no fun. You could offer me free tickets to the Carolina-State football game, and I’d suggest that someone else would enjoy them more.
I attended a couple of NASCAR events on a press pass, back in the day when the races used to sell out, and there were huge crowds there — but I always left before the race was over so I didn’t have to fight the traffic. I don’t go to the state fair on the weekend, I’ve never been to a really big rock concert, and I avoid rush hour whenever possible.
If I were a Muslim I’d probably never make a hajj to Mecca, and if I were a Catholic I wouldn’t stand in a huge crowd to see the pope. My only Baptist experiences involving big crowds were those crazy conventions back in the 1980s when more than 40,000 messengers would cram into hangar-sized meeting halls, fighting for control of the Southern Baptist Convention. They are not pleasant memories.
Whatever the occasion that draws a crowd, I find that I don’t necessarily dislike being with a lot of other people, but I dislike what some people become when they clearly think they’re more important than everyone else in the crowd.
That’s why I’m so taken aback when I read stories such as this one, describing how at least 378 people were killed in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, when thousands of people stampeded during a festival celebrating the end of the rainy season. Apparently, way too many people were packed onto a tiny island accessed by an even smaller bridge. When a few people passed out from the press, the rest of the crowd panicked, pushed for the bridge, and hundreds were either trampled to death or pushed off the bridge.
My thought is that I can’t imagine anything that would have made me want to venture into that sea of humanity to begin with. That’s why, when Thanksgiving is over, I’ll spend the next morning taking a nice walk or grading exegesis papers rather than fighting throngs of shoppers in search of holiday bargains.
I know the term “Black Friday” originated because a successful day-after-Thanksgiving sale pushes many stores out of the red and into the black ink of profitability for the year, but I have my own ideas about why the moniker is appropriate.
Even Jesus could only take so much of the madding crowd. As I count my many blessings this Thanksgiving, high on the list will be room enough for quiet conversation with people I care about, and for solitude when I need it.
Sometimes, one of our greatest blessings is nothing more than empty space.