On my way walking to a neighbor’s to get a clump of mint she had dug up from her garden, I hear honking along the avenue. The celebratory, tournament-winning type of honking, not the angry, you’re-in-my-way honking.
A few days back, a parent at the elementary school had announced a weekly Black Lives Matter vigil in the park, along with news of a Unite for Change driving caravan on Sunday.
A formation of 10 police officers on motorcycles ride up the hill past me, their faces all different colors under their round helmets. They must be heading back to the station, because beeping cars are still streaming along Wisconsin. I pick up one of the mint plants in recycled bread bags under the tree, and walk toward the noise.
On the corner, only a handful of people waiting to cross are clapping and taking videos. A single woman holds a fist up, and another down the way holds a sign toward the oncoming cars. I put down my mint, stand at the intersection, clap for them and wave, hold my fist up, and cry.
I had thought that the caravan wasn’t for me. We would be too distant from others, it wouldn’t be as powerful as the marches, and I don’t like driving in traffic. As if protests were about my emotional satisfaction.
Dodge Caravans follow Honda CRXs, Priuses and Subaru station wagons, with kids in the back, fluorescent-yellow unreadable signs taped on, cardboard box signs pressed against glass. People call and cheer out the windows. In all its homemade-ness, it’s beautiful.
We must not let go of this moment. This opening has been made for us — a breach, a break, a tear that the plague has ripped into us, and asked us: How is someone else’s pain like mine?
Looking at appearances — what people wear, the sports they play, the cadence of their speech, the jobs they hold, the music they hear — it’s easy to get distracted by the diversity of human beings.
Sometimes the best thing that can happen to us is to have our comfort taken away, our fancy cloaks ripped off — we can feel what has always been there inside, a quiet unity that goes way deeper than whatever separates us.
I remember as a child seeing how Black children and their parents were treated — rejected, doubted, shunned — just for existing. How they were denied, shut out, begrudged, almost hated. I had waking nightmares about what seemed like a curse — to be born Black in the American system.
The beeping farther down the avenue gets faint, but then another group builds up at the traffic light and the song gets louder.
I must allow myself to continue to feel the grief of being part of a country that has not lived up to its ideals. Where this division has become so ingrained, so baked in, so seemingly impossible to dig out. Rotten.
When the honking fades and ordinary cars have replaced the parade cars, I pick up my plant and walk toward home.
Inside even the most powerful famous rich people is the fear of being left out, of not having enough. This is why the original sin of slavery was never rectified, never repaid, never righted. And why oppression simply took on different forms and guises, morphing into endlessly new forms of exclusion and denial.
When I get back, Virginia and Luke are cleaning mildew off the fence with spray bottles and brushes as one of their weekly chores. I say, “I just saw a caravan driving by on Wisconsin for” and I can’t finish the sentence without crying.
But these are tears of hope. I need to feel both this sorrow and this love. People are standing together, not apart. And I want to be there.