June 2, 2020

This is Not the New Normal. This is Change.

A worthwhile read: Minneapolis Mirror: Being the Change we wish to See.

And: Hey America, I Can’t Breathe.

I’m sitting in my favorite café, Nova.

Bob Marley is singing in the background about how change is coming. Protestors peacefully pour down the main street in Bozeman, Montana, chanting, “No justice. No peace.” 

In the café, every other table is being served. As we reopen, after the coronavirusinduced shutdown, this is how they are mindfully enacting distancing protocols. There is no plexiglass between us. Some waitresses wear masks. Some don’t. My brunch, a perfectly prepared benedict made with local lamb and topped with fresh microgreens, is delicious. 

I’ve missed this—not the food, not being served, or the relief from needing to cook—the community. I chat with my waitress who speaks slowly and clearly through her mask. And on the spot, we become Facebook friends.

My best friend, who recently arrived from Seattle, sits across from me. We come here every time he comes to town. It’s a ritual. He held me last night as I broke down in yet another vicious anxiety attack. There have been more lately, consecutively, than I have experienced in my entire life. In part, this is grief that needs expressing, but it makes me feel helpless and out of control. This was the first time I have had actual human contact to guide me through. 

I’d woken—anxiety hot, driving my neurons into chaotic connection, spastic, and disorganized—unable to catch my breath, squirming beneath the weight of impending doom. Upon checking my Facebook feed, I saw news of riots in Seattle, a 5 o’clock curfew enacted, and reports of the National Guard being called in. 

I felt it before I read about it. Then I closed my phone and cried. 

My heart is tender, tender, tender. I’ve been moving through my own heartache as we have quarantined, and I sit with people in their pain and confusion for a living—I am inundated daily with heartbreak and trauma. I hear stories about predatory family members stealing children’s innocence, spouses breaking each other’s spirits and bodies, family secrets that get swallowed by the abused, and abusers getting off the hook because it’s just too uncomfortable to talk about it. 

“I can’t breathe.” George Floyd had desperately gasped. 

Me neither! 

This is not privilege speaking. This is my nearly endless grief bubbling up, as I sit in my favorite café, crying as I type on a pink encased smartphone. This is me, alive at this moment, feeling angry, helpless, afraid—feelings that were heartrendingly captured of George’s last moments. I am here. George is gone, and too many like him have fallen victim to predatory practices by police, and the authoritarian abuse of power, specifically aimed at minorities. 

This is not new. This is not part of some covert agenda, or a ploy to get us to tear ourselves apart. We are divided. We are hurting. We are broken. We have to speak out for those who cannot. We have to speak for those who have had their voices crushed, their bodies crushed, their spirits crushed. 

I can’t see for my own tears blurring my phone’s screen. The soundtrack for the last half hour or so, has been provided by a nearly endless stream of mask-covered faces, pouring down my little town’s historic main street, bearing signs: Black Lives Matter. Justice for George Floyd. We are One. There is Power in Unity. And my favorite—No Justice. No Peace. 

My name is Justice—given, not chosen. I take this personally, as should we all. Normally, I shy from the term should, as it reeks of shame. But, we should be outraged, we should be fed up. We should be rioting, marching, howling with anger and grief, or in my case writing. This needs expression.

Handmade, cardboard banners are carried by these protestors, who are clad in everything from shorts and t-shirts, to bright sundresses, sunglasses, sandals, combat boots, brightly colored hair, conservative khakis, amidst strollers and even kids carrying signs, calling for justice

It’s not only the victims’ names who I want to see. I want to see the names of the perps up there too. Derek Chauvin, and others. Yes, they deserve infamy. They deserve to be known for what they have done. They deserve to wear scarlet letters for the corruption that they embody. And they deserve for those bodies—those bodies that they so recklessly use to wreak havoc on innocent lives—to go to jail. 

Today, I can’t march; the hypersensitivity of my nervous system won’t allow it. Nevertheless, I wound up here, in the heart of my beloved Bozeman, just doing the thing that I love to do, and finding myself, included. 

Privilege has the luxury to turn a blind eye because a problem does not, personally, affect us. 

We are all affected by racism. We are all affected by corruption. We are all affected when members of our society are treated as less than human. And in some way or another, we all know that pain, and it is immense. If we think we can protect our hearts by looking away and pretending we are not affected—we are dead wrong—and people are dying for our privilege. That is not okay. 

I know we can’t go to battle every day, but once in a while, we must. Once in a while, we must choose to stand for what matters, even when it makes us uncomfortable. Our comfort cannot be the price of someone’s safety. 

I am tender. My anxiety can, some days, make it hard to leave the house. That does not mean I get to look away. That means I care for myself, as best as I can, so I can be of benefit. This is the point of our lives, to be there for each other!

The tender flames of my heart yearn to incinerate the structures that house systemic racism, colonialism, and corruption. I don’t know how to do this except—I know that I cannot look away. I cannot shut down my heart, my care, my grief, or my outrage. I will give it a voice. I will vote. I will confront abuse in every form in which it crosses my path. I will hold the hearts of the hurt and hurting. And I will let others hold mine when I am confused and worried. 

My tears will not put out these flames, though they will be shed, here in my favorite café, all over the pages of my life, and in my attempts to inadequately capture, in words, the flow of compassion pouring off this crowd, as they move in unison under a sunlit, sapphire Montana sky—their feet, their voices, powerful and staccato, demanding accountability and justice. 

No. This is not the new normal. This is change. 

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public, just like tenderness is what love feels like in private.” ~ Cornel West


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