We spent the weekend celebrating my newly minted 11 year old son. His birthday was Thursday, the sleepover with friends Friday and a dinner with the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins was last night.
Throughout the candle blowing and meal preparation and attempting to not become a target in the Nerf battle that broke out upstairs, there was Charlottesville. It weighed heavy on my heart and I forced myself away from the photos and the news and the tweets to focus on my son and give him a weekend that he ended up describing as “epic” (a parenting win if ever there was one).
This morning, however, my heart was heavy and my body ached with the weight of all I had been attempting to ignore. The stillness of the house as the boys left for school descended and I went to my desk to work. Only, I found I couldn’t. I was heartbroken and confused and unsure how to make a difference in this tumultuous world.
So I took myself to the water.
The water has always been my balm, my solace, the place where I can find my center. I laced up my shoes and headed to a local walking trail not far from my house that goes around a small lake.
The trail was somewhat busy this morning. I passed retired couples strolling, a mother and teenaged daughter deep in conversation, middle aged women with their headphones on getting their steps in, people walking dogs, a pair of teenage boys with their skateboards propped next to them fishing off the pier, a trio of mothers and their respective broods waiting while their bigger kids checked out the turtles in the lake while a chubby-legged, smiling baby cooed in the stroller and two preschool-aged stow aways clung to its sides.
My pace was steady, the clouds hung low, the humid air of a Southern summer filled my lungs. I found peace in my breath. I found peace in each step. I found peace in the muddy scent off the lake. I found peace with each good morning I uttered with a nod because each was uttered to someone different from me. A different age, a different gender, a different race. Of the mothers and the daughters and the retirees and the men and the women with their dogs, I passed people that were African American, Asian, Indian, Hispanic, white.
And I thought, yes. These are my people.
These are the people fishing, moving forward, taking in life. These are the people making eye contact with their neighbors, giving a greeting, sharing a smile. These are the people loving, nurturing, working, growing, aging, living life in our community. These are we and we are these.
What happened in Charlottesville is happening everywhere. It might not be as blatant or caught on tape, but it’s there, in the quiet spaces. To assume racism is a thing of our past is naive. I strive to keep my eyes open to that. I realize that I am white and Christian and that those two cards offer me entry into the world at a higher step than many. I acknowledge that privilege. I acknowledge that my boys will never encounter the same challenges in life that their brothers and sisters of color will. It doesn’t make it right. But I see it. The trouble, is what to do about it. Here is where I struggle and will continue to struggle and ask my siblings of color to show me how I can best be a part of the greater fight.
While I seek that out, I will keep my eyes and heart open, to listen to the experiences of others. I will continue to read voices of color. I will make sure my children’s eyes are open and never lulled into complacency by the safety their privilege provides. I will teach them that for equality to be a reality, it doesn’t mean someone has to go down the ladder in order for someone else to come up. Equality isn’t a see-saw.
I came across several caterpillars on my walk. They littered the path, inching their way to find food, safety, shelter. I think America today is a little like those caterpillars. We are slow and low to the ground and trying desperately not to get squished by the giant feet overhead. We need to find the safe trees with the leaves that satisfy our hunger. We need to climb to higher branches. We need to cocoon ourselves in knowledge and empathy. We need to wrap each other tight in warmth and safety. And somewhere, during a process that seems like magic but is actually after the hard work of climbing and cocooning, we will emerge changed.
Only then will be able to soar together as beautiful butterflies of all colors.