June 2, 2020
My strong emotions make it difficult, now, for me to measure my words. Perhaps they shouldn’t be measured, except I’m saying them out loud into a microphone, on the radio, and I know you can hear me.
The experience of watching the video documenting the murder of George Floyd is particularly devastating at this moment of such profound vulnerability. We have no reliable structure or plan. Rather than mediating or calming, our leadership promotes chaos and hate. And then, of course, the illness itself. We’re left on our own to hold a center of love and encouragement for one another.
A friend told me about a report on the radio this morning. The reporter was walking past Tufts Medical Center here in Boston with a crowd of people protesting the murder of George Flloyd. She said everyone turned to salute the work of the medical workers. There was a doctor on the sidewalk, weeping under his mask, touched by the cheering. She asked if she could help. He was crying, he said, because as soon as he leaves the hospital he is just another black man in danger, walking on the street. He was overwhelmed by what had happened in Minneapolis.
The protests are important, and I support people who are going out in these demonstrations. It’s a brave and necessary thing. I’m not the protesting type in the best of times. One of the most sustaining experiences for me right now is down at the Red Cross Food Distribution Center. I stand in a line with other volunteers packing food into boxes one morning a week. Outside the warehouse where we’re working is a line of cars waiting to pick up these boxes and pan out across the city to deliver them. The drivers are Boston City school teachers, and they’re bringing the food to their students who’d been enrolled in the subsidized breakfast & lunch programs.
There is something tangible in a world of surrealism when your teacher pulls up to your house and walks up to your steps to drop a box of food… a ham, a bag of potatoes…enough to get you and your parents, sisters and brothers by for a few days anyway. It’s an act of mercy. Somebody doing for you what you can’t do for yourself. One demonstration of mercy instantly levels the playing field.
I consider Minneapolis against this backdrop. We see this man. He’s lost his job, drunk, they say. It’s a pandemic.
Maybe he’s trying to take his mind off his troubles. He’s pawned off a badly counterfeited bill to buy one pack of cigarettes. The man has nothing. He’s begging for mercy, to please let him have his life when everything about any one life is hanging on threads. Calls for his mother. The brutality and disregard we’re forced to witnesses; it’s breath-taking….crushing. And from this standpoint, we understand the raw fact that there is, in fact, a species of hateful, vicious men. They make their evil when they think no one is looking. They get jobs with uniforms to blend in…pass themselves off as representing justice, protection, order. And then their cover is blown, and they demonstrate through their actions against black men and boys — George Floyd — that they are incapable of mercy. My friend Cherry’s mother had a prayer, May God protect and hold you in the very hollow of his hand. We are in the hollow of their hand.
Once, when I was in sixth grade, I had a fainting episode. I was in the school gym crowded onto bleachers with our music teacher Fred Straub and about 70 others who were in our elementary school band. I wore my favorite pink dress. My hair pulled back with a clip on one side. I never wore hair clips. I’d often be situated in the center of these photo packs because I was the tallest. A cascade of classmates descending on either side of me to the shortest – Ann Sportelli on the one side and Randy Meltzer on the other.
I started to feel dizzy and nauseous. It was the heat of bodies all together – plus I hadn’t eaten any breakfast. I started to fall over. Everyone scattered and Mr. Straub came over to my side. The door to the gym opened and our principal Dr. Jane Byrnes came rushing in….she’d often peer through the windows to keep an eye on us during our music lessons or dodge ball. She took a look at me, then went out the side door. She was back in a few minutes with her car, parked just outside. She had a great car. It was a convertible. Red, with pointy wing tips off the back. By now, I was off the floor and sitting on a chair. She came over and picked me up in her arms; carried me out to her car and drove me home to tell my mother what had happened. I was not a small child, and I was embarrassed to be carried like that, in front of all my band mates. Now, as I wonder why this memory returns at this moment, I feel the tenderness. I was one child out of hundreds in her school. She cared enough to tend to this one child herself – bringing me into her arms and taking me to my mother.