I left work Friday afternoon and headed to pick up my child from daycare. As I started down the hallway toward his classroom, another mother and her son, younger than mine, walked toward me on their way out. I was greeted with an exuberant “HI!” from the little guy, who oozes with a zest for life and other people. I smiled a big smile and returned the greeting.
As I passed this mother and son, my chest constricted and my heart ached, knowing that his sweet, innocent, lively presence will one day be diminished as his mama has to sit him down for The Talk. I ached for this mama who will fear for her son’s safety on a regular basis (in a way I will never have to) because we still live in a shoot first, ask questions later kind of world–especially when people of color are involved.
I felt it. Physically. Emotionally. I felt it.
I feel it often for my friends and their children. I feel it for the kids I encounter at work. I feel it for strangers I pass.
That feeling crescendoed this weekend as events unfolded in Charlottesville. Bigotry which had slumbered in hibernation awoke with a voracious appetite, ready for its first course. White supremacists with torches closed in on people gathered to speak truth to evil and love to hate. The most striking image for me, however, was the black officer standing at the rope line, his back to the rally that included white men carrying Confederate flags, wearing KKK garb, and raising their right hand in salute as the Nazis once did. The black officer looks down toward the left with a neutral expression on his face. But what thoughts must have raced through his mind?
This morning, I watched another black boy enter our shared space. This one was older, and he was accompanied by our youth pastor. The boy’s father was nearby, proudly recording his entry and lighting of the candles on the altar in our sanctuary. The schedule for which child would light those candles was made weeks ago, but this child’s role in lighting those flames TODAY was not lost on me. Not long after, my pastor stood to welcome the congregation as she does for nearly every service. She started by acknowledging that this morning was a difficult one. She named the sense of paralysis many white people feel. She named the the feeling among black people that once again their lives don’t matter. She called out the fact that 11:00 on Sunday morning remains the most segregated hour in America. The anthem sung later by the choir was Precious Lord, Take My Hand, a song favored among Martin Luther King, Jr. and many other members of the Civil Rights Movement. It was a song that was chosen weeks ago for this very morning. After the choir sat, my pastor went to work, speaking truth not only in love but to fear, challenging us to do this work–because there’s still plenty to be done.
I’ve struggled this weekend to put words to all of these things. What to say, what the hell difference it might make when we keep having to do the same kind of work. When the systems and hearts and minds of this country seem to take, at best, baby steps toward honoring the whole personhood of all who live here. I kept coming up short.
And then I read some words written by another of my ministers and I started to find my own.
He said, after proclaiming his love to our Black and Jewish and Latinx and Muslim brothers and sisters (and I would add our LGBTQ brothers and sisters), “I will continue to give my life dismantling white supremacy in the church I love and in the systems and hearts and minds of this country and world until we live in justice and peace or until I’m dead and gone or until Jesus comes back.”
Brick by goddamned brick.