When my family goes away for a bit, things fall to pieces.
When we got on the cruise ship in March, it was still safe to travel. When we got off the ship, the pandemic had hit, and we barely made it home. Everything had changed. Schools were closing, small businesses were sinking, and nobody had enough toilet paper.
Last week, we went off the grid for a few days as we slipped away to the mountains. Peter’s family has a summer home on a river, and it’s off the grid and off the map in every single way. No email, no cell phones, no wifi, no headlines. When we signed off, the world was in their homes, loving each other. When we signed back on, everything had changed. A man had been killed under an officer’s knee, there was rioting in our own downtown, the President is holding a Bible as a photo prop, and the pandemic had somehow taken second row.
I hardly knew how to catch up on the headlines, how to catch my breath.
I didn’t speak into it. Every word I considered felt like too much or not enough.
Too on point and already discussed, or too distracting and off topic.
I got real quiet. I watched sixty minutes of the news every night: thirty minutes of national news and thirty minutes of local news, since I do kind of have an intellect-crush on Lester Holt and Kyle Clark, our local guy. I trust them to tell me what’s going on.
I watched with my teenage young men, but I didn’t speak into the commentary. I just asked them to watch. I don’t want to tell them what to think right now. I don’t want to be their conscience. I want their inner voice of justice to be their guide. I want them to look, watch, see, be appalled, and follow their instincts. Anyone can see that it’s wrong. I wanted to give them the respect of seeing it for themselves, not waiting for their mom to doll it out in teaspoons.
They said, “I feel angry. I feel angry at the police officers who watched him die, and I feel angry at the people burning down buildings. Can I feel both?” Yes. You can. One does not cancel the other. One does not fix the other.
It’s too much to hold. And it should be.
My friends were nudging me.
“You have influence. Use it.”
“I have black kids. Speak for them.”
“We need you to speak. It’s comforting.”
“Silence is unreadable. It’s the worst.”
I have a hard time being articulate in this arena. It’s not that I don’t want to speak. It’s that I don’t know the words. I feel like the privileged of the privileged. I don’t feel like it’s my time to talk. As I said at our dinner table, “It’s our time to listen. Just Listen for a minute.”
My brother and I discussed this on our podcast. We agreed that our actions are not politically motivated, because our views are wholly neither red nor blue, neither left nor right. I used to think that meant I was apolitical, but I understand now that this was the wrong word. I am not without views, but I am independent in speaking them.
I am not politically motivated. I am morally motivated.
In our family, our values are solid and without question: we value life. We will stand for life. And I can say this.
If someone knelt on the pulse of my son’s neck while he begged for help, asked forgiveness, cried for relief, and called for his mom, I would burn down the whole city. That would be the beginning of what you’d see and hear from me. But nobody’s doing that to me and mine. And it’s patronizing to compare anything I can imagine to the reality of what others are seeing, feeling, knowing.
So what am I doing?
I’m making eye contact.
I’m reading a lot, from a lot of perspectives.
I am asking questions.
“Do you feel heard by me?
Do you feel safe with me?
Do you know I am on your team?
What do you need?
Say it. I will give it.”
And with every interaction, I am trying to say,
“I am your ally.
I am on your team.
I support you.
You matter to me.
Your kids matter to me.
I will leverage my privilege for your good.”