Meaning of Life

By Guy Fletcher | Posted on 09.09.13 – Editor's Note

One morning last month, my friend John Falin pulled up to a McDonald’s drive-thru on the Golden Mile to grab an egg-and-cheese biscuit. When he tried to pay for his food, the cashier told him the driver in front of him—a woman he didn’t know—had already paid. The cashier said the benefactor also passed along a message: “Pay it forward.”

It was a small-but-touching act of kindness, the type of thing that gives pause to even full-time cynics like me who can only dream of receiving free biscuits from strangers. It was also a tiny view on how spontaneously generous this community can be, even if it is sometimes in small doses.

By complete coincidence, that same day Baltimore Sun columnist Dan Rodricks wrote that Frederick County “has gained a reputation for being mean” because of anti-immigration stances taken by political leaders like County Commissioners President Blaine Young and Sheriff Charles “Chuck” Jenkins. He also suggested this reputation could push away tourists who might see our lovely Clustered Spires as being guarded by iron gates and angry dogs.

I’ve enjoyed reading Rodricks’ columns for decades, but in this particular case I think he took an unfair, plodding lunge at an entire community, based on the actions of a few political leaders. Yes, there is a legitimate and important debate about the county’s approach to undocumented residents. (We spent 10 pages of our January issue talking about the topic.) Yes, this controversial and emotionally charged issue is part of the larger tapestry that defines the community’s image and reputation. Yes, Young and Jenkins have definitely elevated the county’s state and regional profile in this area, and in a way many would rather it not.

But does that make Frederick County mean?

Is it mean when communities too numerous to mention rally around neighbors and families—sometimes complete strangers—in times of personal tragedy? Is it mean when there are so many giving people who pour their hearts into charitable projects and nonprofit organizations that help thousands? Is it mean when people are paying it forward at a fast food drive-thru?

I moved to Frederick County in 1990, having been warned that I would be viewed as an outsider by those who had lived here for generations. I found the opposite to be true. Maybe in the eyes of some I am still not “a real Frederick Countian,” but I have never been made to feel that way. Moreover, I have personally witnessed and experienced many acts of kindness, big and small.

It’s true that you can’t pat the entire county on the back because of one free egg-and-cheese biscuit. But you also cannot punish a community—especially one that has been as giving as Frederick County has over many, many years—because of the relatively recent actions of a few political leaders. To suggest the county is “mean” is easy, lazy and flat-out wrong.

Have a safe and happy September, and remember to pay it forward.