Sarah Garrecht Gassen: A tale of two Als

2014-06-26T00:00:00Z 2014-06-26T09:30:40Z Sarah Garrecht Gassen: A tale of two AlsSarah Garrecht Gassen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

I planned to write this week about Al Melvin, the Arizona state senator and failed gubernatorial candidate who wears his “conservative Christian” label more in your face than on his sleeve.

On Tuesday, Melvin, a Republican, ended his flagging attempt to become governor because he couldn’t get enough people to donate $5 to qualify him for the truckloads — close to $1 million for just the primary election — of taxpayer money he needed to pay for his campaign through Arizona’s Clean Elections program.

Melvin discovered that his appeal is limited to a small band of true believers. It can’t be a good feeling to find that you can’t get folks to give you five bucks.

But I keep thinking about another Al — Albert H. Givens Sr. of Webster Groves, Missouri. He was the custodian of Edgar Road Elementary School from when it opened in 1951 until he retired in 1985.

He’d been on the job more than 20 years by the time I became an Edgar Road Roadrunner. Al was beloved. If he was there, everything would be OK.

Al Givens passed away earlier this month. A Facebook post of his obituary is filled with remembrances of a man who knew every child in his care. For 34 years he watched kids grow, knew us as people, shared a smile and asked how we were doing when we needed a friend. He kept us in line with a gentle “don’t give me no trouble now.”

As another Roadrunner posted, no kid ever wanted Al to be disappointed in us.

Al Givens made his world better. We should all be so fortunate to have the same said about us when our time comes.

So why don’t we take better notice of good, kind men like Al Givens? Why do the antics of politicians, like Al Melvin, suck up so much oxygen?

Perhaps it’s because caricatures, like Melvin, are easily understood. They spark a reaction. They seek out notice and are zealots in their own cause. They need us, the public. And we need them to believe in, to criticize, to ridicule, to point to as evidence of what’s right or wrong in the world today.

There’s plenty to say about Al Melvin. He’s been a reliable source of embarrassment during his time as a state lawmaker — his devotion to turning Arizona into a nuclear waste dump, his dedication to being the most conservative of any of the conservatives who ever dared called themselves conservative.

His pronouncements of what his favorite enemies — aka “The Left,” “Liberals” or “The Democrat Party” or President Obama or Republicans who aren’t “real” Republicans — say, think or believe are predictable head-scratchers.

Melvin stated on a local radio program earlier this week that the way to increase the number of conservative Christian voters is to do voter registration drives “at your churches or synagogues.”

Al Melvin makes an impression, I’ll give him that.

Maybe it’s the juxtaposition of the two Als that’s nagging at me — the unfairness of what we notice, what takes up our time and attention.

There is a legitimate reason to expose Al Melvin’s bizarre statements and plans for Arizona, his factual errors and unrelenting quest for conservative purity.

But I wish we could do a better job of noticing and appreciating the people, like Al Givens, who give of themselves every day. People who are true teachers.

They’re busy doing instead of talking. Their actions show us how to live a good life of kindness, respect and compassion.

When I was in kindergarten I became lost trying to find the big-girl bathroom. Al saw me crying and confused in the hallway.

Al Givens helped me find my way that day.

And he still does.

Sarah Garrecht Gassen writes opinion for the Arizona Daily Star. Email her at sgassen@azstarnet.com and follow her on Facebook.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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