Since the killing of George Floyd, I feel I’ve lost the ground under my feet. I walk the dogs, shop, Zoom with a variety of people, look at our overgrown, gorgeous garden, and I’m numb.
My brain tells me this is certainly not the first and unfortunately will not be the last. My brain tells me that this goes on a lot—a lot!—and what am I thinking of. My brain tells me that what needs to be changed is an entire system, from A to Z, that changing a system can be dangerous and is a long time coming.
My brain tells me lots of things; they don’t penetrate.
What I keep on mentally mumbling to myself is: 52 years. I was 18 when I went to my first demonstration in Central Park, New York, on the Friday afternoon after Martin Luther King was shot. It’s 52 years later, I repeat to myself obsessively. 52 years . . . 52 years. More than half a century.
Last night, when the Green River Zen group Zoomed together, I resonated most with a woman who said she wished she was in New York. I’d felt that since covid began. Get on the front lines where people really hurt. Get into the cracks, as Bernie used to say. March with the marchers, protest with the protesters. Stop writing about dogs.
“What do you mean, stop writing about dogs? We’re the most important thing in your life.”
“You’re not, Aussie. I give you attention, I train you, I feed you, but—”
“Boss, you should take care of what’s in front of you—namely, me.”
“I don’t want to live in a bubble, Aussie.”
“What’s a bubble, Boss?”
I’ve been feeling in a bubble since mid-March when I locked down in a beautiful home while spring brought out new buds and leaves, bears woke up from slumber, and birds celebrated renewal at the same time that so many were got sick and died. At the same time that so many were laid off, businesses shut down, savings disappeared, eviction notices came in the mail, and food pantries ran out of food.
I didn’t want to shelter in place but shelter in place I did, though I wanted to walk the streets, masked, make eye contact, find my way into the center of the storm.
“Don’t even think of going back to New York, what’ll Harry and I do there? Get friendly with yuppy dogs in Riverside Park?”
“Don’t worry, Aussie, I can’t afford to live in Riverside Park.”
The question is: How do I not live in a bubble? I’m up on the news, I get the info, but that becomes its own addiction and destabilizes the mind. More and more I feel that the media—right and left—are our puppet masters, using headlines like strings that pull us up and down, in the process making loads of money.
Compete with everyone in vilifying Trump? He’s the symptom, not the disease.
“We’re all One,” you say, “isn’t that enough?” That’s another bubble.
Feed emotional turmoil, weep, gnash my teeth, then go rest from all the angst? Long ago I learned that people mistake strong feelings for action. They mistake earnest, lengthy discussions over glasses of wine for doing something. It was Robin DiAngelo, in White Fragility, who pointed out how deceptive those grand emotions are, how much attention they call to themselves, how in the process we think we did something and forget who and what must always remain the focus.
Have your feelings, I tell myself, but don’t let that become your bubble. Don’t go home feeling good about all that indignation, sorrow and guilt.
People with no food on the table don’t have that luxury, they have to get up in the morning and figure out how they could get a few hours of work. Feelings are good, but without action they can become another bubble.
In the end of 2016 I was stunned to see a photo of Wesley Clark, Jr. kneeing in front of Chief Leonard Crow Dog asking for pardon for what the US military had done to his tribe. He went down on his knees—not too different from what so many demonstrators (and even some police) are doing now–and asked for pardon.
That’s what I think we have to do. Find one African American family and ask its members for pardon. And whether they give pardon or not, ask what we can do for restitution. What do you need? A better apartment or house? Medical care? Help your kids go to college?
After the 2016 election, when threats against undocumented families in our area became very real, my friend, Rami Efal, came up with an idea. What if we create a small Circle of Care around each family, find out from them what they needed, and helped them: with work, negotiating their way with English and the legal system, their children. What if we used circles to take care of people?
Imagine doing that for people protesting about how they are being treated by our country, by all of us. Imagine creating a small circle around each such family and asking: What do you need? And then, even in small ways, addressing those needs.
Yes, we could send out reparations checks. Not with Donald Trump’s name on it, but in the name of The People of the United States. But circles of care are better because isn’t that what we’re called to do, care for each other? Show people they’re not alone, never abandoned, that they’re seen, their troubles recognized, and we want to help?
And while we’re about it, we could do the same for the Native American tribes and families who lost so much. First ask for pardon, and then form a Circle of Care around them.
You say we don’t have the resources for all that care? I say, we do. Add up our public and private wealth, the corporate profits and the small change in thieving offshore accounts, and you’ll see that we do. There is enough money for us to care for each other.
How do I not live in a bubble?
Let myself get cut to the quick, then see the smile on a child’s face, her big eyes looking at me with curiosity and not fear, laughing at my poor Spanish, the inner contentment when she knows she’s being cared for. Let yourself bear witness to the joy and suffering of the world. Plunge into both.
“Right now I’d like to plunge into some chicken, Boss.”
“Aussie, you’re a great comfort.”
“I’m your only comfort, Boss.”
She’s not. So many others comfort me, too. Kathryn, from Canada, who sent me a card enclosing what was left of her American money when she returned home from a brief visit to New York. I straightened out the $5 bills and 6 singles with deep thanks.
A check for $100 from Joyce with the note that her retired husband is making bluebird houses in order to collect donations to help. Wow, I thought. Birthday appeal money from Holland, donations from a German sangha, and now a gift that comes from the building of bluebird houses.
A student left two $50 bills in my mailbox, and a week later came to the house, masked, with four $50 food cards.
A friend who walks with me on occasion, then remembers: “Oh yes, I almost left without giving you these,” and hands me food cards.
And if any of you have sewing machines you’re not using, think of giving them to a small cooperative of women here who are sewing masks to make a little money. Even better, if you know of a market for these masks—or for other sewn products, please get in touch with me.
Can we understand how important each of us is in the world? Our words, our actions, our intentions? I have no illusions, they will never drown out George Floyd’s last words. They will never drown out the scream that began with the founding of this country and that continues to echo inside me and you. Even as I write this, I can hear the whisper inside: Where have I been? Where are we now ? Where will we be tomorrow, and the tomorrow after that?
I vow to bear witness to the joys and suffering of the world.
You can give money for food cards for undocumented families by using the Donate button below, but make sure and add: For food cards. You can also send a check to me, Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351 and write “food cards” on the memo line.