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.
You wouldn’t notice it, if you walked by. It’s just a tree, next to an old house on a university campus. There’s a nice view from the hill, so you’d look at that, not a random tree. But I go there for the tree. To me, that tree, with the ground under it, is sacred.
Twice, I sat at a table under this tree. Twice, I set the table up and decorated it and prepared it for a surprise and a question. Twice, I worked up my courage to ask a question at the table under the tree, and both times I heard the same answer, the answer that changed my life:
In the weeks we’ve lived in lockdown, we’ve discovered that Parcheesi is a fun game, car parks make good bicycle playgrounds when there aren’t cars in them, and there are paths to walk on near us that we never knew about. Having a 2km travel limit for weeks on end has forced us to be creative, and to look more closely at the familiar things in front of us.
Normally, if we want to see flowers in the Spring, we go to the old mansion house a few minutes away, where the formal walled gardens are open to the public and kept blooming with exotic beauty from around the world. Ever since we moved here, we’ve felt lucky to live near such a place. Now that place is closed. Instead, we walk in the industrial estate.
From the sandy beach in Youghal, Ireland, you can see Capel Island just off the coast, with half a lighthouse. The unfinished tower now serves as a shelter for wild goats, who are the island’s only inhabitants, aside from the birds. But there’s more mystery in the history of Capel Island than abandoned construction projects and goats—legend has it that an infamous pirate buried treasure there in the 1620’s. We know the pirate was real, and we know his name: Nutt. We also know that he was betrayed and nearly hanged in England, but managed to avoid the noose thanks to his friendship with the Secretary of State.
After our family heard about Nutt, the infamous Captain began making appearances on family camping trips, telling tall tales of his fantastic adventures. In every story he nearly died, yet somehow managed to escape at the last minute. I wrote down some of these tales, intending to give them to my children as a Christmas gift (that was nearly three years ago… better late than never, right?). Now, in order to give them a physical copy that looks and feels like the real thing, I’ve self-published the book through Amazon. I’ve got their copies ordered, but in light of the current situation I thought I’d share the stories with you as well, in case you or your children would also like to hear the tall tales of the Captain willing to travel beyond the Edges of Doom in his hunt for the legendary Dessert Island, where the lollipoppies grow behind brown sugar beaches.
I want this to be my gift to you, so I’ve made the Kindle version free until Friday, the 1st of May (as long as Amazon will let me):
My two sons (3 and 1 at the time) had locked themselves inside the bathroom, and the stakes were high: the younger one had an ongoing problem where he would hold his breath and pass out if he got too upset. He got upset a lot, but one of us had always been there to bring him back around. What would happen if he passed out inside the locked bathroom..?
“Don’t worry, boys, we’re right here”
I used my happy voice, and tried to explain to the older one how to put the key in the door and turn it. It didn’t work. A few more tries, knowing that there was only one other option.
While adding a slew of new things to worry about, this long lockdown also removes some normal kinds of pressure. There are things I don’t have to worry about right now, like how I’m coming across in a social setting, or if I’m being too loud or too direct or too effusive or too whatever with people around me. They aren’t around, so it’s not an issue. I don’t have to follow anyone else’s rules of social engagement and politeness. I don’t have to check the temperature of the mood in the room and adjust my body and language accordingly. These days, I can slip comfortably into whatever unusual habits I prefer, and no one will give me a funny look to let me know I’ve missed a standard social cue. I can do things my way, and no one will see if my way is weird. I’m living in safety, inside the walls of my own comfort zone.
This is the most unusual Easter weekend any of us have ever seen, and hopefully ever will. The sun is blazing where I live, but we can’t go out and we can’t even have church services to mark the most important day in the Christian calendar. This Easter Sunday will be different, to say the least. But I can’t stop thinking about Easter Saturday.
It’s the day we normally set aside for egg hunts and preparation for Sunday’s celebrations. It’s the day that even the gospels skim over, the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The day between death and resurrection. The day when Jesus’ disciples were heartbroken and hopeless, even though they were only one day away from seeing the greatest victory the world has ever known.