Some things are worth saying over and over again. I’m sure that’s been said before, but it’s worth repeating. At our house, we said “sit down” and “eat your food” so often that my wife started saying those phrases in Irish, just to break the monotony. Still, we knew that saying it over and over again was the only way to get to the point of not having to say it over and over again.
But there are some things we’ll never get to that point with. There are some things that will need to be said as long as there are people on Earth. The reason for this is that us humans tend to forget basic truths almost as soon as we remember them. We work and fight and kill each other to right some horrible wrong like genocide, oppression, or slavery, then turn around and create new ways of doing the exact same things, like abortion, police brutality, or human trafficking. Each victory bleeds into a new battle, where we have to say the same old truths all over again, like “all people are valuable” and “all men are created equal”.
I was excited. We’d only lived in Ireland a few months—long enough to begin to feel the reality of deep differences, but not nearly long enough to adjust to them. Our second son had just been born, a different experience in a different medical system, and we needed to register his birth at the United States embassy. American soil, in Ireland. It would be nice to get a little taste of all we’d left behind. A few hours on the motorway got us to Dublin, where we found the US embassy—a big round thing looking out of place on its street-corner, like a landed UFO. Like us.
One of my favourite places near our house is a little graveyard up the hill behind our village. Yes, I know how odd that sounds. I don’t even have relatives there; I know nothing about the people buried in that small patch of ground except what is written on their monuments and of course that they used to live where I live and breathe the same air and somebody cared enough about them to put up a stone in their honour.
As he rounded the corner, the view opened up and he saw the city in front of him, perched proud and confident on its hill, like a king enthroned. At the highest point stood the Temple, glistening gold in the sun, reflecting off the tears on his face:
“If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes…”
This was the city that rejected him. This was the golden Temple he would cleanse in righteous anger. These were the people who would shout “crucify him!” and make fun of him as he died. These were the people who would pierce his heart, and these were the people who broke it.
William Wilberforce was a British white man who was born into wealth, and quickly attained significant political power. He was elected as a Member of Parliament at the age of 21, while still a student. From such a position of privilege, what could Wilberforce ever legitimately say about racism? He had no personal experience of slavery. And yet, it was Wilberforce who spent most of his life and strength spearheading the effort to end the slave trade in the British Empire.
A murder, on film. Lawless lawmen, racism, protests. Burning cities. Is this the normal we all wanted to go back to after lockdown?
We’re angry. Angry that a man could ignore another man even as he begs for his life. Angry that men who swore to protect would stand by and threaten force against anyone who tried to intervene as he died. Angry that this is far from the first time this has happened, and won’t be the last. Angry that more innocent people are now being hurt by riots that are destroying their communities and businesses.
We need justice. We demand it. Nobody should get away with cold-blooded murder. We want justice for George Floyd. We want it for everyone. We want a just world. We want a world where no one abuses power and no one is targeted for their skin colour. We want a world where protests are unnecessary, and never turn violent. We want a world where justice never fails. There’s only one problem with a perfectly just world:
We found a rope swing near our house. It’s hanging from a tree that is not on our property, in a field that is empty and waiting for development. Our neighbours showed us how to find the path where people walk their dogs, where the one tree stands alone in the middle of wide open green—a green studded with more wildflowers than we would have thought possible.
It’s not our garden, but our children can run there.
I was challenged by a young man recently to write a poem about the current situation. I love the medium of spoken word poetry, so I decided to take this opportunity to give it a try. Here’s the result (The reason it looks homemade is because it is homemade):
We’re later than we intended to be, but we’re still early. It’s our turn to help set up. The children take chairs from me as I bring out the stacks, then there’s the projector and the microphone, plus I need to run through the music with the others. We won’t have much time, but we never do, and we always manage to pull it off. We joke that if our band had a name, it would be A Wing And A Prayer.
Only a few minutes before we start, and familiar faces are smiling their greetings from across the room. As the hum of conversation grows, I see my children playing with their friends in the aisles between the chairs—are they being too loud? I see a few people slip into a side room to pray before we start. Through another door, I catch the movement of busy preparations in the kitchen, teas and coffees don’t make themselves, and they’ll be needed straightaway after the service.