At 4:00 yesterday I heard that the verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin was coming down within the hour. In my office, things turned somber. The media, however, couldn’t stop playing it up, highlighting over and over again how many people were gathering outside the courthouse. Reminding me how even as important events are happening, the media’s raking in lots and lots of dollars making them importanter, not to be missed.
The verdict came and I turned numb. Turned off the news, tried to go back to work, couldn’t. Couldn’t do anything or feel anything: not relief, not anger, not even sadness, at least not at first. Just a complete hollowing out.
I walked outside and sat on the chair in back, looked at the glorious forsythia and the grass that blazes in the sunlit afternoons. Thought about how the next day was supposed to be rainy and gray, bright days followed by dark, no guarantees for anything.
For the media it had epic proportions, as if we’d all lived through a national catharsis. That was probably true for some; I didn’t feel it. A catharsis is meant to empty you out, help you let go of dread and anxiety. For me, a human in a white woman’s body, none of that happened.
Twenty-four hours later, I still can’t get Derek Chauvin’s eyes out of my mind. He seemed unconscious, a robot going through the motions. I watched as handcuffs were wrapped around his hands and he was walked out, his defense lawyer saying something to him quickly—I’ll be in touch?
Someone becomes an icon for systemic brutality and we’re surprised when the person on the screen looks as confused and overwhelmed as a child. For a brief moment I thought of Adolf Eichmann at his trial, the mastermind of the Holocaust resembling a timid bank clerk, and remembered Hannah Arendt’s words, the banality of evil. But no one is so banal that s/he is not a human being, a lesson not just for Chauvin but also for me.
I didn’t appreciate Maxine Waters saying what she did in the middle of the trial; I didn’t appreciate Biden saying what he did before the verdict was announced. You’re not a private individual, I wanted to tell him, you’re President, you should have said nothing till the very end of the trial.
Still, I’m glad he didn’t Tweet in all big caps. Because that’s the problem, the situation doesn’t lend itself to capital letters, to marquee headlines, to the endless talk talk talk of news shows. A black man was killed and his white policeman murderer will go away for a very long time.
It was a just verdict. If I had any doubt of that, all I’d have to do is imagine how I’d have felt had the verdict been different, the outrage, the shock, anger, and frustration. But when the right verdict came down it felt two-dimensional in a world of infinite dimensions.
I thought of King’s words, that “[t]he arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Somewhere along that arc Derek Chauvin is justifiably paying the price for murdering a black man, but the thought brought me no joy.
Earlier in the day, I watched the adventures of Percy and Ginni. No, not the doxies down the block, but the incredible pieces of machinery currently exploring Mars. I cheered for Percy the Rover descending into Mars, held aloft by a big, ebullient parachute, and Ginni the helicopter twirling those cute blades as she zoomed up and down the Mars landscape. Science fiction movies couldn’t compete with those videos. For those moments I felt as expansive as that parachute, and unreasonably happy.
Now, after the verdict, King’s words reverberated in my mind: the arc is long, the arc is long.
And then I thought of a mailing I’d received from a foundation that has worked for many years with prison inmates. It was peppered with beautiful quotes, don’t know from where, and one caught my eye:
“The Dead Sea in the Middle East receives fresh water, but it has no outlet, so it doesn’t pass the water out. It receives beautiful water from the rivers, and the water goes dank. I mean, it just goes bad. And that’s why it is the Dead Sea. It receives and does not give.”
I laughed when I read it and thought: No, you’re wrong. Because the Dead Sea is one of the most beautiful places in the world and I have always loved it. I, for one, found a lot of life around those sulphur waters, as do bacteria and algae, as does vegetation around the sinkholes, as do the animals along its shores. As have mystics who wandered there over millennia, finding God.
Nothing is a dead end, I thought as I sat on that chair looking at the hill across from where Aussie and I live, from where Bernie and I used to live. Life–be it humans, bacteria, or machines like Percy and Ginni–finds a way even in the most uninhabitable of places. In the Dead Sea on Earth, even in Mars. And for one vivid instant I knew as sure as day that life is compassion, and compassion life..
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