It is hard for me to name fresh, new times when I felt like I belonged because I have written about most of them already, the ones that stand out. That pile of young women on Vicki’s living room floor, laughing. Girl Scout camp, Camp River Glen, singing in the dining hall or beside the fire at night—all of me engaged, connected, joyous. For me more often is the sense of being in a group but not of it, a rigidity in my body, an inability to rest with these people who seem so at ease together. I don’t know what the common thread is, aside from myself, me as the thread. Often I just haven’t experienced what they describe—I feel different, set apart, as if they all truly come from common roots, and I am the strange flower carried far from the others, flown here by birds.
I can’t count the number of white people I’ve heard say the murder of George Floyd woke them up to how bad things are for black people, for indigenous people, for all people of color. I’ve cringed, stayed silent. But I’ve wondered. How could you not know? At the same time, if I am fair, I think this monstrous act (that follows centuries of monstrous acts) struck at an especially vulnerable time. Maybe because we are all so off kilter from the pandemic this has reached deeper, feels more vivid. Maybe even those of us who scream white privilege, who have the luxury of turning away, of tuning out, haven’t been able to turn away from this. For me, it joins other griefs, wakes up overwhelm and powerlessness. And living in there, too, is a flicker I think might be hope. If you don’t know where to begin, you might start here. 75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice
To be a healthcare worker, or any first responder, unimaginable today. Honor to you, always. Postal workers, trash collectors, plumbers and tradesmen who come into our homes, day care workers, caregivers, veterinary staff and more, all plunged into the line of fire now—I am grateful to you all. And my own heroes since we began to shelter in place, the people at my Ralph’s, at my mother’s Trader Joe’s, from the beginning, so impressive. How quick they were to rally, to organize our lines outside the store, to let in seniors and people with disabilities early. They developed systems for sanitizing our grocery carts. They tell us what is out of stock, what is being rationed. Every day they show up, put themselves at risk so we can buy lentil soup, wild bird seed, garlic, beets. And they do it all with such good cheer in the midst of the chaos. The people at my own Ralph’s have long been some of my favorite humans, people I rely on for their kindness, for open-hearted connection, people who matter to me a great deal. But now they all amaze me. Genaro. Mark. Lee. Anita. Nathan. And all the rest of you whose names I never mastered. You awe me, so gallant your efforts. You bring me to tears. Hats off to each of you, palms across my chest. Thank you. Stay well.
Before the election, I turn from my mailbox to see my neighbor Ted and his dog Buster walking toward me. They look happy. “I just got a letter from Mike Bloomberg,” I say. Ted teases me about how Mike and I can’t keep our relationship secret much longer, and I fall in step with them on their slow walk home. We talk politics, about who we are voting for in the primaries, about how much we both like Elizabeth Warren. We fix the world, talk about the environment. That gets me going about banning Roundup, and we talk about how people would have to be willing to tolerate some weeds or actually pull some weeds, give up a little on the pristine. We talk about edible weeds, my fondness for dandelions and their greens. (Right now another neighbor has some nice big ones behind his trailer I am quietly harvesting.) At my gate we stop. “Well, I have to get going,” I say.
“Oh, sorry,” Ted says. “I’ll get off my soapbox.”
“No,” I say. “It’s always a pleasure.” But I am instantly sorry I said I had to go. Something under my skin bubbling up, the need to finish prepping my class before I leave. But I could have been happy standing there a few more minutes, fixing the world together. I wish I had.