I went to a rally sponsored by Black Lives Matter on Saturday. It was dismally hot and humid, especially behind a mask. A few hundred people had gathered, a large turnout for this very small, predominantly white city. The main intersection was closed off by policemen, their black-and-white cars blocking vehicular entry. The rally lasted a half hour and then began to march down to the police station. I left at that point, the heat and humidity being too much, and indeed a brief but significant thunderstorm erupted shortly afterwards.
I later heard that a second march arrived around mid-afternoon from another place, bigger than the one I was in.
I was moved by the policemen who stood guarding the protesters. It reminded me of how stuck they are smack in the middle of things, hearing themselves vilified while protecting those who called them names by megaphone. They are the enforcers of our social and cultural mores, with weapons, organization, training, and a law that almost always is on their side. With their uniforms, batons and guns, it’s easy to hate them because they’re the ones who directly inflict the damage.
They’re simply the front lines of a far vaster army. One of Bernie’s favorite koans was: Who’s pulling the strings? Behind the yelling protesters (What do we want? JUSTICE! When do we want it? NOW!), behind the police talking to walkie-talkies and motioning cars away from the mobbed intersection, behind the blazing headlines on newspapers—who’s pulling the strings?
I stood with the protesters, applauding but not yelling. Yelling is no longer my style. I loved their individual, creative, home-made signs and wished I had my one-size-fit-all sign, showing a big circle and inside, in red letters, the words: Take care of the whole. Many held their children on their shoulders. They had talked about this with them; they’d tried to impress upon them the importance of this moment.
The day before, the dogs had run away. I had walked them in the woods above a lake, Aussie spotted a deer, and dashed after it as fast as her legs could take her. Harry, in back, detoured around me and joined her, barking excitedly. They were gone for 24 hours.
I made endless forays into the woods that day, alternating with waiting in the car and hoping they’d remember the parking lot. I wanted to write, to think about George Floyd, to think about this country and the world. Instead, I got more and more anxious about a pair of young, rambunctious dogs.
I went back in the evening and still they weren’t there. I returned home facing, for the first time, a long night without them. The following morning, I returned at 7 am to the parking lot. A red-and-brown bullet sped past me up to the driver’s seat, jumped to the back seat and lay down to sleep.
“Harry, where’s Aussie?” I asked him.
She was right behind him, standing back as if thinking: If the Boss is going to kill somebody, let it be Harry. Finally, she wagged her tail and came. There was nobody around but a pair of kayakers, and the dogs had hung around them hoping they’d throw them a sandwich.
Is this how best intentions are left unfulfilled? You want to do something, you want to show up, find a wave that can carry you and the rest of the country forward towards major changes. But the dogs get lost, a parent had a stroke, the electrician arrives unannounced, you didn’t sleep at night and walk around tired and irate at a body that at times betrays you, that keeps you in your day-to-day bubble.
And yes, you have to write another blog post.
At 8:30 the previous night I’d returned to look for them. The sun had set and I climbed up the hill calling out repeatedly: “Aussie! Harry!” I entered the woods. During the afternoon I’d heard from bikers and walkers that a big bear had been spotted above, and I looked down the dim path. No bear, no dogs, just silence and night coming on.