Back in the day when bedtime stories were read to children, one of the favorites was that of Henny-Penny, the chicken that had an acorn hit her head and concluded the sky was falling. She collected up all her barnyard friends and off they went to tell the king. Foxy-Woxy was the last to join the parade and you can guess, even if you don’t know the story, what happened next.
How ironic that last week at the Red Hen Restaurant in Lexington, an acorn in the form of the redoubtable Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House Press Secretary, fell on the staff of the restaurant. The result is now worldwide news since the owner of the establishment, Stephanie Wilkinson, asked Ms. Sanders and her party to leave as they would not be served. Wiser than barnyard chickens they withdrew in a purportedly courteous manner.
Thanks to a Facebook posting of the event, the sky did actually fall, not on the evicted patrons but on the restaurant, the staff, the owners and, worst of all, on the good town of Lexington. Even the “king” heard of this and (to no one’s surprise) added insult to injury with a barrage of name-calling and general invective, none of which bear any relation to the incident or the truth.
Lexington has had more than its share of civic controversy over what kind of flags shall be flown, what heroes of a former age should be dishonored, what statues should be toppled, and should a world-renowned university change its name.
What, if anything, can be salvaged from this debacle? Could this have been handled differently? In this time of civil consternation can we not hold different opinions without infringing on the rights of those with whom we differ? Would this have happened if common courtesy had been activated? Should we be grateful that social media can turn the infringement of individual rights into a polarizing event involving death threats? Good questions all with widely divergent responses.
It is beyond obvious that any person should be able enter a public establishment without fear of mistreatment, let alone ejection. In the presence of civilized behavior and the absence of illegal activity, haven’t we had this discussion ad nauseam? We have become so polarized that a reasoning middle ground has begun to vanish.
A group of concerned citizens have been working as Main Street Lexington to enhance the economic prosperity and cultural vitality of the community, to re-establish it as a vibrant economic and cultural nexus for the area while maintaining its unique character. The owner of the Red Hen Restaurant, Ms. Wilkinson, is and now was the executive director of Main Street Lexington. (She has, according to reliable sources, resigned.) It should be noted that despite this current travesty, she is widely respected as a community advocate and for her leadership roles. There clearly is a need for a statement from the town’s officials rectifying this backsliding into an age that reasoning people want to be ancient history.
The larger issue is the absolute necessity for reasonable listening to those whose opinions differ. That does not mean agreeing with them or taking action to change their minds. It does mean we must have a foundational respect for others. That goes far beyond where one is welcomed to a public eatery.
It would be unfair to generalize the intemperate acts of one establishment to tarnish such a fine community. The voice of this historic town will overcome the present heartbreak and remain a jewel in the Shenandoah Valley. Everyone who knows and loves Lexington should work to make certain that comes to pass.