LIFT: Tear Down This Wall

by Larry Sims
Associate Pastor, First Baptist Church Texarkana
President & Board Member, Hospice of Texarkana Foundation

My very first recollection of Texarkana was seeing that famed postcard of a man  on the photographer’s island in front of the downtown post office. The caption read: “A man standing in Texas with his ‘donkey’ in Arkansas.” There was another such card where the man was standing in Arkansas and his “donkey” was in Texas! That was the first thing I knew about our fair city but the existence of the two cards did indicate a “slight” state rivalry.

Years later when the opportunity came to move to Texarkana, I was warned by friends to beware and be careful! It was said that Texarkana was totally inhabited by rats. Then the movies “The Boggy Creek Monster” and “The Town That Dreaded Sundown.” (These were obviously not films sponsored by our local tourism officials!) Then to top it all, I was warned that Texarkana was totally controlled by the dreaded and powerful Dixie Mafia.

Being somewhat of a risk taker – at least at that time – I came to Texarkana ready to face the rats, the killer, the monsters and the Mafia! With much relief, I can attest to the fact that I have encountered none of the above in my thirty five year residency here.

Rather what I have encountered are the best of the Tigers and Razorbacks, the Leopards and the Hawks, a springtime like no other, a city that values its unique history, wonderful hospitals and health care, outstanding churches of all persuasions, a variety of shopping and a bounty of restaurants. I have found policemen and firemen and teachers and other public servants who are top notch and always rise to the occasion with professionalism and a marvelous touch of humanity.

But what has impressed me most of all about Texarkana is the people. Surely some with historic family names, but also a place with residents from literally all over the world. Trained professionals as well as those looking for a new chance at life. Racism, prejudice, violence and crime are read about more in other cities than experienced in our own. Obviously not a perfect place by any means, but more the pleasures of Mayberry than the negatives of so many towns across America.

In a perfect world, our two cities – Texarkana, Texas and Texarkana, Arkansas – would merge and we would be one big happy family. But let’s face it! That is never going to happen! Longhorns and Razorbacks just don’t mate! State laws and other factors keep that from happening even if residents agreed to it.

But on many occasions, the citizens of both cities have joined together to make things happen. There was a great sense of bi-state unity when our citizens bound together to demonstrate to the BRAC Commission how much Red River means to our community. Again a great sense of community when support was being demonstrated for keeping Cooper Tire here. Never once have I been in the emergency room where the care of the medical staff depended on which state color the patient wore. Policemen and firemen are constantly helping each other across State Line. The citizens of our two communities have worked together for the Komen Race, for Opportunities Inc., for TRAHC, for Water Springs Ranch, for food drives, and for countless other worthy causes in the Ark-La-Tex. Last year we saw thousands of people bind together to work tirelessly to bring a dog park to Texarkana. I know my own dog would enjoy this very much and she has yet to ask whether it will be located in Texas or Arkansas (Arkansas is the answer, in case she asks).

I remember many years ago hearing a statement that there would be no wars if the mothers of our nations ran the governments. Of course, the implication is that the mothers are more concerned about the safety and well-being of their own children than they are some power grab or selfish interest. Perhaps we can take that application not only to our federal and state government, but also to the city we affectionately call T-town. It seems that the goodwill and cooperation of the citizens and the public servants should carry over into the leadership of our city. Certainly that is the goal of many of these dedicated servants. But somewhere along the line – and I don’t know who or where or when – but the rivalry between our two cities has gone from the gridiron to the halls of government. But ask the man on the street, and most will defend both sides of the city. We root for Texarkana, USA and not just for our own neighborhood.

There is an old Hasidic story that spoke of respect for ones fellow man and the spirit of cooperation. The legend tells how a man was invited to visit both heaven and hell. First, he went to hell where he found all the tormented souls sitting at long tables, laden with all kinds of wonderful food. Yet they were starving and howling with hunger. Each soul had a spoon, but the spoons were so long that they couldn’t get them into their mouths. Their frustration was their torment.

Then he went to heaven and, to his amazement, there, too, he found the souls, sitting at long tables, laden with all kinds of wonderful food. But they were all well fed and contented. Each had a spoon just as long as the spoons in hell, but they received all the food they needed. How, then, did they manage to eat? They reached out across the table and fed the person across from them. They were feeding each other! Their mutual service was their blessing. Heaven and hell offered the same circumstances and conditions. The critical difference was in the way the people treated each other.

Sadly, the story continues of how the man went back to hell to share the solution with the poor souls trapped there. He told them, “You do not have to go hungry. Use your spoon to feed your neighbor, and he will surely return the favor and feed you.”  And one responded angrily, “You expect me to feed the detestable man sitting across the table? I would rather starve than give him the pleasure of eating!”  How sad.

As citizens, we have the opportunity to use what we are given to help nourish each other on opposite sides of the city, but the problem lies in how we treat each other. The way to turn things around is through reaching out to others. Working together in unity rather than being concerned only for our own needs. Cooperating and communicating openly with a sense of trust and wellbeing. We can make our fair city even more a little bit of heaven by reaching out to one another – not just as private citizens, but also in the halls of government and among those who make decisions that affect us all.

To quote President Reagan, “Tear down this wall!”

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