I am in the middle of a different post, one that talks about my travels and has beautiful images and happy feelings. But I’m not working on that today. I found something today. Courage? Or understanding? Or maybe just overwhelming anger.
You all know what I’m talking about.
I am a sheepish, small, white female. Sometimes I pretend I’m a badass, but I have a lot of fears. I deal with most of those fears by keeping my distance from others. I have intense social anxiety, have a history of a panic disorder, and fight a daily battle with depression. I prefer to stay out of everyone else’s business and just try to deal with my own stuff. It’s cozy. I like the peace I’ve found in my home and I will stay there, thank you.
This morning, before coffee even, I saw that Google was recommending an article to me by the Trib. I don’t know why I always swipe over to the news. I always hope it’s going to be about gardening and squirrels, and it sometimes is, but most times it’s not. The article was short, just announcing a protest happening, where and when. It was a little vague on the broader details, but it got the necessary message across.
It was happening today, in my town.
Well, kind of my town. Here in Pittsburgh, we’re all broken up into boroughs, or townships. Neighborhoods. You know. But it was close enough that I consider it mine. That’s where I get groceries and go to the park. Until this morning, the protests have been happening in more densely populated areas like Downtown. But now it was happening here, and it felt like a direct petitioning.
“Will you go?”
Oh heck. I don’t know. I hadn’t prepared for this. Should I go? Do I want to? What is it like? I’ve never been to a protest before. Will I get hurt? Will it do anything? Why do I want to or not want to participate?
I can’t handle conflict. I do everything I can to avoid it. It makes me feel so sick inside. I get hot and my tongue feels fat and fuzzy. My throat closes up as the fear and fury build. I just hate it. These are such bad feelings, and it’s never worth it. I just get tongue-tied and even if I am “right” and he is “wrong”, we never can change each other’s minds. Eventually, someone (usually me) gets tired or overwhelmed or can’t speak anymore through the tears, and just gives up. It doesn’t work so well for me, and I think that’s probably the same for a lot of others too. It has taken years for my husband and I to figure out how to appropriately “argue”. He has been infinitely patient and has actively tried to help me express my thoughts to him, especially when they are different from his. We even did pre-marital counseling when we were engaged and in one of our sessions we did some exercises in “what is a fair fight”. I think back on that session often when I’m angry and I just want to FIGHT, but I remember that my anger wants me to fight, but my love wants me to forgive. And really, love feels so much better than anger to me. Does that make sense?
I wish the world would take pre-marital counseling. We naturally want to be right and fight each other in an endless, unfair fight. Love takes so much more work sometimes.
So, I just sat with it for a little while. I didn’t decide if I was going or not right away. I briefly talked about it with my husband when he had a two or three minute break between classes. I think I was a little afraid he would tell me I shouldn’t. I haven’t sat with that thought long enough to process why I felt that. I remember in high school we had a protest when the school administration told us they were cutting art and music classes. A few of the “bad” kids were going to protest because it would get them out of class for a while. That’s not fair. They probably also wanted to fight for the cause, but that was the impression everyone got. Some of my friends were on the fence, so I said I was going to go. They sort of gawked at me and told me that I was stupid. They said the school was threatening to suspend the kids who participated. It wasn’t ideal, but isn’t that the risk? It made me angry that none of them would come. I was angry that they saw me as stupid and not as convicted.
In the end, the scare tactic worked, and no one went. I didn’t go either, because there would have been nothing I could do alone. And really, it wasn’t going to change the fact that our school didn’t have any money anyway.
So, maybe I was afraid of rejection. Or that he would tell me it was stupid to go (I would have to go by myself since he had to work). But he just asked if I was going and I said I didn’t know. He said he would go with me after work if I wanted. That helped me feel like it was up to me completely and I didn’t have to fill some kind of expectation one way or the other.
I did some research. I found some articles on how to protest safely. I even found articles on how to protest safely during a pandemic because…you know. I learned some tips on photographing a protest too. Like I said, I had never been to a protest before, and I didn’t know what to expect. What do you do if it gets violent? I never found an answer to that question, and thankfully never had to find out first-hand.
I prayed. There’s a very simple motto that young children are taught in Sunday School. I don’t think kids have ever stopped making “WWJD” bracelets and I hope they never do. When I’m confronted with something hard like this, where I feel split and unsure on what is right and wrong, I just ask what Jesus would do if He were in my situation. Sometimes that’s a tricky application. It’s hard not to imagine Jesus without doofy sandals and a long white robe. But, what if he was a little scared white girl who only knows how to bake and takes pictures sometimes? Then what would he do?
In the Christian Bible, we are called to use our gifts for God (1 Peter 4:10 “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”). Debate is not one of my gifts. Neither is being a leader, or even really just a supporter. I think one of my gifts is visual story-telling. I used to be a decent story-teller (on paper – live speaking was soooo not for me) but it evolved into a visual platform over time. I’m grateful to my teachers and colleagues for helping me find my visual voice. It’s something I’m still working on, but I hope that even now my images speak to my viewers. I hope they see what is happening and feel the emotion I felt.
I think Jesus would love people. Love everyone. And it would be hard, but he would try.
I’ve seen a couple posts on instagram that express the fear of being wrong, or not entirely politically correct. I absolutely feel this. I’m slow to jump on any bandwagon no matter what it is, because I know time passes and we look back and wonder if it was the right thing to do. I’m afraid that I will never have the correct words to help. I want to help. But what if I do it wrong and do more harm than good?
Run the Jewels 4 came out a few days ago. In the song “pulling the pin”, Mavis Staples sings a chorus with the words…
“And at best, I’m just getting it wrong
And at worst, I’ve been right from the start”
I don’t know all the details. I definitely don’t know the answers. I might be wrong on some things, but I have to try, right?
Later she sings…
“Static in my mind
Like sanity on borrowed time
Like right and wrong can’t be defined”
Right and wrong is tricky. We often use the phrase “the line” where we imply that right is on one side and wrong is on the other. But I have said it before, and I absolutely believe, that right and wrong is fuzzy. There is a gradient of cause and effect. All I know is we have to love each other. Cause love with an effect of more love. Please.
I decided I would at least try. I’d get my gear ready. Water. Camera. First aid kit, just in case. I made an excuse to be out that way anyway. I needed an orange from target for the orioles that have been coming by for sweets. Then we’d just see.
My heart was thumping. I didn’t know if I was in the right place. I thought I was already doing something wrong. Wrong by the police. Wrong by the people maybe. I tried not to overthink it and just got out of my car and started walking. I pumped RTJ4 through my headphones into my ears to help with the anxiety. People are less likely to talk to you if you have headphones in, so even if it’s a placebo, it helps me feel safe. I could still hear the cars honking. I wonder if I made my cat scared of loud noises, or if he did that to me. Or, we’re both excessively fragile and sensitive. Whenever I hear a car horn, I think it’s a threat. Someone screaming at me. I never try to be mean or do something that will hurt someone else, so it often makes me feel like crying. I didn’t mean it.
I didn’t see many people. Maybe 10 or 15. I felt disappointed. Probably selfishly. I had all of that fear adrenaline and no reason for it. But also because I had hope more people would care. The small group made me feel seen. I would be noticed, and I didn’t know what to do if I was. But then I saw, down the street a bit, a row of police cars blocking the lane. I started down that way to see what was going on.
I’m not sure how it all was meant to go, but down the street was a massive group of protestors who were making their way up towards me and eventually merged with the few I had seen at first. I was excited! I noticed that there were no cars in the street anymore and the group was marching confidently, on a mission.
I dove into the road to start my job, the one thing I felt I truly understood. Nah, I didn’t dive. That sounds cool. It was probably more like a lurky crawl. But I did feel right, stepping out there to start capturing the story.
I saw all kind of people. People of all kinds of different backgrounds with different histories. “Protest” sounds scary. I imagine a lot of unruly individuals, screaming at you. But these were people filled with a desperation. A need to love and be loved and to protect their families and brothers and sisters. There was more water available than could even be drunk. There were masks for those who still hadn’t been able to get any. Workers in businesses nearby came out to offer water and support.
No one was walking down the middle of Rt. 22 in the 90˚F heat because it was fun. They were walking because they needed to.
At some point during the march, I noticed a lump in my throat. I don’t know how long I had been crying. It was so hot out and we all had masks on. Everyone’s face was wet with sweat. But also tears. I finally got slammed in the heart with all of this. I finally found my words, I think.
We are seeing one of the biggest heartbreak our country has ever faced in it’s history of heartbreak, because it’s a heartbreak that never healed. To ask to be loved, no more than anyone else, and to be ignored and punished is heartbreaking. I knew at that moment that I had to do more. More photos. More protests. And I knew I would be scared and might not go.
As I tried to keep up to date on the protest later in the day, I saw people commenting on an article that gave periodic updates. All of the comments were infuriating. People complaining that this has gone on long enough and “we get the message”, and people enraged over how the protest was disrupting traffic. I have to actually put in this one quote word for word because it makes me feel so sick.
I want to slap everyone who is on the other side of this, or who is ignoring this. But I am reminded that God tells us to love our neighbors. Our black neighbors. And our white neighbors. Our neighbors who have wronged us, and our neighbors who haven’t, but have wronged our other neighbor. I think that’s where I’m at now. Angry. But I love you. I will keep trying to love you. All of you. And I will keep fighting for you. I’m scared. But I will try.
Today I had to make a decision to put myself in a small amount of risk. The people of color1 in my country don’t get to make that decision. They have to live in that and much larger risk every single day.
Black Lives Matter. They deserve to be loved, because none of us deserve love and yet we still get it. No one is asking to be any more than the rest of us. No one is asking to have anymore than anyone else.
I don’t know if I contributed anything today. I don’t have any confidence that anyone will read my gibberish and find anything positive from it. I don’t think my photos will make any kind of difference, really. But a fire grew in my soul today for my brother and sisters of this world. I will keep praying and fighting and asking God to help me and my friends and my government to help. Our world will never be right or peaceful. But we can get a little better, I hope.
1Originally I had written “colored people”, and have since learned that it’s more appropriate to use “people of color” as this emphasizes people first. Thank you, friend, for teaching me! (July 10, 2020 13:02)