“If ever you feel discouraged, and you will at times, step away, take a deep breath, and begin again.” These are some of the words I wrote on my son’s graduation card. I don’t know if he’ll hang on to it or them, but I wanted to tell him anyway, maybe because I also needed this reminder? George Floyd can no longer take a deep breath and begin again, despite asking, begging, over and over, to reclaim his breath. And for those of us still here, simply breathing, something we take for granted, has gotten complicated on every level.
I’ve been listening to the news, watching social media and reading perspectives from well-known people and others too. The common takeaway is horrific and none of us can un-see what we saw in that video. And why should we? Haunting and deeply disturbing, that video and George Floyd’s precious life has sharpened our vision, caused us to look more closely at everything, our relationships with each other and the deep-seated labels, consciously and unconsciously, we assign to each other every single day.
Wear the Damn Mask / While grocery shopping, I noticed a sweet little boy, barely even three, wearing a mask like his parents. His had a cartoon pattern and tiny elastic bands which curved around his ears. With sobering headlines these days the likes of “Coronavirus may never go away, even with a vaccine,” I realized mask wearing will likely become normalized for him, something he grows up with in his daily wardrobe, as commonplace for his preventive health as an annual well check. I wonder, will his family reunion photos depict everyone in masks, with separate picnic blankets and distancing? I keep wanting to look back on this time, have it in our rearview mirror and in many ways return to how things were, but then I remember things will never be how they were and maybe they shouldn’t. Perhaps instead of fighting it, let’s work with it, highlight the best parts and lose the rest.
Change Your Behavior / In an interesting interview on NPR, science writer Sonia Shah, author of Pandemic and the more recent, The Next Great Migration, talks about the pandemic today. https://www.npr.org/2020/06/02/867691497/migration-isnt-crisis-it-s-the-solution-science-writer-says She says what we take out of this will depend on the stories we tell ourselves, which largely fall under the basic narrative that we have been invaded by something outside of us, and we have a sense of us being the passive victims. She observed the reaction to the pandemic for many has been that Covid has befallen us, as if we are objective observers and this plague raging in front of our noses simply happened to us, robbed us of control, and we are now left with the inconvenience of having to react. Yet its deep roots started to take hold long ago. Similarly, the response to systemic racism can be a passive or active one. We can either deny its very existence or change our behavior. It’s proven that social distancing works, and if you follow its guidelines, you will indeed flatten the curve. If a society wants to rid itself of systemic racism, it also must change its behavior. So simple, it seems. Shall we?
Food Is Love / I walked my dog downtown the other day, late in the afternoon when the sun is gentler and the dinner hour looms. Instead of the hum of bustling shops and restaurants, there was only a hot summer stillness under a gorgeous pandemic blue sky. I noticed the same men I often see, sitting on benches in front of the library, their belongings rolled up in tidy heaps near them and against the building. There was another man sitting alone in front of the Rec Center and our eyes locked. I always tighten the leash when I see people, because my German Shepherd/ Husky is big and for some, menacing, and the last thing I want to incite walking by is fear. On this 80-something-degree day, a lady dressed in a parka sat at a bus stop across from the Presbyterian church busy on a phone call, and several other men, one with his head down, dotted the lawn.
I couldn’t shake any of it once I got home and so I did what my instincts told me to do, what I’ve done several times before. The mini Kroger’s parking lot wasn’t too full and a nice smiling lady inside gave me one of the cleaned carts which I filled with deli turkey, ham, provolone cheese, soft wheat bread, fruit cups, bananas and baked chips. I bought paper lunch sacks and waters, too, and scored napkins and even a pack of toilet paper for our own cupboard. I sat in the car and assembled little meals. I brought a stick of butter, knife and cutting board from home and the butter softened in the car while I shopped. I buttered the bread, made the sandwiches and filled the bags full, with a napkin tucked inside each.
I returned and walked toward the two men and offered them a drink and snacks and we started talking. The older gentleman said what he’d really like is some ice cream, and we joked that I came up short. I asked him what kind and he said Haagen-Dazs cherry vanilla and coconut caramel. Then he rattled off more flavors and I said, laughing, “Stop!” We both knew neither of us was going to score a scoop no matter how many flavors we recited, but we laughed anyway at the futility of it all.
Next, I walked to the side of the church by the lawn. The man with his head down had gone, two others were still there. I gave them each a bag and we both told each other “God Bless You.” I never say that, but them saying it to me felt good, and so I said it back. Across the street on the square under the gazebo were two other young men. They were friendly and seemed glad to see snacks and water. They also said “God Bless You” and again I said it back. We agreed God should bless all of us. Around the corner propped up against the old courthouse was an older man, his belongings strewn against him and the building. He wrote things in a tiny spiral notepad and said he’d like some pocket change. I never carry money so instead brought him a water and a banana.
He asked me my name. I told him and got his. Kevin wanted to know my date of birth too and I simply told him “I’m an August baby” and he scrawled that information into his notebook. I asked him his birthday and he told me it’s June 8. Excited, I told him that’s also my sister’s birthday. He smiled showing his few teeth remaining and I said goodbye leaving him to jot in his notebook, the water and banana by his side.
Driving home I noticed an older man walking down Ponce de Leon who I had seen earlier near the library. It was hot and he looked hungry and tired and so I pulled over. Walking toward him I asked if he’d like something to drink. I never know how to broach the I’d like to give you some food and water topic. I don’t want to sound condescending or give someone something they don’t need or might be too proud to accept, so I typically just ask if they could use something to drink, knowing if they can, then I have the green light to hand over a bag full of other good things. He gladly took it and we wished each other well and I drove off.
For me, food is love. It would be childish and naive of me to presume I’ve solved anything. It doesn’t fix the deep seeded racist problems in our country and likely inside all of us, myself included. But it’s a way I’ve found of showing love and receiving it too. Each exchange with these people left me more hopeful, happier, and I can’t help but believe they felt the same way. We are all in this together and hungry for so much more than we now have.
Stop Judging Others; Start With Yourself / In Atlanta’s mayor’s moving speech the other day, among other things that resonated with me, she said, “You’re not going to out-concern me and out-care me.” https://www.fox5atlanta.com/video/689455 This reference to one upmanship gave me pause. In the wake of recent events, on social media ￼I’ve noticed the rising need to outdo each other, as if to assuage our guilt from not doing enough? You’re doing nothing? You’re quiet? You’re probably a racist. You didn’t post a black box to social media on Tuesday, the horrors! Honestly I don’t know how. Yes, really. It was all I could do to add a City Schools of Decatur frame around my profile picture.
I wish I had some answers. So many wish the same. On a recent Instagram post, Ellen Degeneres, near tears, admitted she didn’t know what to say. (https://www.news.com.au/entertainment/celebrity-life/sad-and-angry-ellen-posts-emotional-video-message/news-story/1f6a2c4e2ac226e03a03f42af3f3c5fe)
What can we say or do now, should have said yesterday or could do tomorrow? I know I don’t have the solution to rid society of systemic racism, but we need things to happen. It’s a two-way street and while there is still far too much focus on our differences, at the end of the day, we are all the same. Isn’t that something to celebrate?
“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” -Arthur Ashe