Tuesday, December 16, 2014


Hard to wrangle the phone for a selfie in the cold, but our sign says "Black Lives Matter."
THE SKIES HAVE BEEN OVERCAST IN BIRDLAND. Fog for miles, but in the fog was quite a ruckus because starlings had come down to roost in our trees. Thousands of them. In midmorning I heard a shout from Michael. "Come quick!" said my husband. "Come right now." And I ran to join him at the window. Something had disturbed the flock and they had lifted off like one organism. They formed into a synchronized cloud of birds and flew like a dragon or a snake out over the field and lit in the grass waterway. It took several minutes for them to land, and it was hard to believe that all those birds came from the trees surrounding our little house. Then they startled again and flew back, winding in another lovely shape through the foggy sky. I was mesmerized and by the time I ran for my camera it was too late to capture the murmuration.The show went on for 10 minutes or more.

Last Friday I drove into town to join in a community event. I had read about it: Folks were going to stand together, lining the sidewalks along Springfield Avenue for two miles. We were going to profess our belief that black lives matter. I think most people would agree that the lives of black people matter just as much as any other people's lives, but recent events show us that we can't take this idea for granted; therefore, the obvious needs stating. Students, teachers, and community members were going to stand out in public and state the obvious. As usual, I found little things I needed to do at the last minute. When I realized that I would be late, I decided to change my habitual route and drive right down Springfield. I was headed to the far east end of the demonstration, where our church was providing hot chocolate and parking. On the west end of town I saw a few squad cars sitting quietly in parking lots, facing toward the street. I wasn't exactly sure what the western boundary of the march was, but didn't see anyone until I got to downtown Champaign. And then I saw only pockets of people, standing bravely on the sidewalk with signs. I honked my approval and kept driving east. I was a little sad that the streets weren't lined with people, as I thought they'd be, but I shouldn't have worried.

When I arrived at Lincoln Avenue where our church offered hot chocolate and parking to the demonstrators, the crowd was beginning to gather. There was a chill in the air, but faces were bright and hopeful. We held signs and chanted. I ran into friends and we chatted and marched. Nancy and I ended up together, both of us mothers, talking about our hopes for a peaceful, just world. More marchers gathered and we continued walking west. We passed Uni High and the students came out and joined us. Nancy's sons showed up and it was so heartening to see her youngest spontaneously lead us in a chant, his young throat straining with the strength of his words: "Tell me what community looks like; THIS is what community looks like."

Then it was rush hour and cars passed with people on their way home. What I didn't anticipate was the level of community support! People honked and waved. Not everyone, of course, but many, many people.

Afterwards, I picked up my youngest, who was in the midst of finals. My elation spilled over and I told him about the march as we drove home. He asked me, "What are you protesting?"

I looked at him. It was an honest question. I think he wanted to make sure I wasn't just jumping on the bandwagon. I said I could only speak for myself, but I was convinced that the fear that some police officers feel about black men coupled with the tendency to use lethal force was a very bad mix. The failure to indict in many cases means that too many sons, husbands, fathers, and brothers lie dead in the street and are then denied their day in court. I told him that I think the answer lies in better police training to deal with a very real (whether justified or not) fear in a way that deescalates the situation. We drove home, each mulling over our conversation. I hope that next time he will join me in marching for justice.

March in Beauty; Work for Peace; Blessed Be.