For the most part, I believe, I have refrained from offering up my opinion about current events in this blog space. Yes, I have here and there, hoping that nurses will someday be allowed to run the planet; Emma Watson’s he/she campaign; everything being broken with the political world. But generally I have confined my wanderings to the issues of childhood and all its adventures and self awareness and personal growth and running after and leaping for the goals you choose, those kinds of things. Not so much current as eternal.
So I am dis-inclined to write something as combustible and potentially inflaming and on its best day as heated as the issue of racial relations and racial status and the ins and outs and day to day comings and goings of the different races in this country of ours. But I find myself here, at my keyboard, tilting in that direction. This on the day after the grand jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri.
I saw this posted on Twitter late last night: “The no indictment is cause for white people to be enraged and black people to be terrified.” I thought about it when I read it and I was reminded – if I even need a reminder – that it is impossible for me to know the experience of being a black person in The United States. I mention this tweet and my reminder not so much to make any kind of statement about the decision reached but about old man river, who just keeps rolling along. I have an opinion about right and wrong and the ways things are and really good friends of mine and family members have, for the most part, the exact opposite opinion. I love them regardless of their opinion, and I believe, vice versa. And yet saying “it is what it is” just isn’t enough.
I grew up listening to my parents album copy of “West Side Story”. The Jets, The Sharks; Tony and Maria. It remains one of my favorite albums. A song that always reached out to me was “There’s A Place For Us”. Because it’s a song of hope. And it doesn’t even matter if it is misguided hope, one of it’s singers killed by the story’s end. Because it is talking, in lovely music, about hope. That’s what counts. Someday…..some way…..things can change. People can change. Maybe even the haters. Maybe.
So I watch the news and mourn with the best of them when the protests largely by the people who have one more reason to be terrified turn to looting and destruction and burning. I think of Jimi Hendrix singing, “Baby, why you burn your brother’s house down?”. Not Louie Armstrong singing “What A Wonderful World”, because right then and there I don’t say that to myself. Even if I want to.
I think about the three members of The Portland, Oregon police department who covered their badges yesterday afternoon with papers that said “I’m Darren Wilson” and I wonder when does loyalty go too far? Just like people defending Michael Brown’s step-father after he began shouting “burn this bitch” when the verdict was announced. Maybe it is just the same as it ever was: “When you’re a Jet you’re a Jet all the way from your first cigarette to your last dying day.” That’s cool. Band of brothers right? Of course the Jets go on to sing in that song that “Every Puerto Rican’s a lousy chicken.” Less of a “there’s a place for us” in that.
Everyone says hooray for their side – Jets/Sharks; Republicans/Democrats; Cowboys/Indians; Montagues and Capulets. And the Prince rides in and yells “A plague on both your houses.” And maybe that’s the deal, maybe that is how it goes, maybe black kids get shot and people burn businesses and reporters get gassed and guys kidnap women and jail them in their basements and white kids shoot up their classmates and tell you why they don’t like Mondays, and maybe there is a plague on all the houses and in fact everything is broken, and at the end of the day, those two kids who looked different but loved each other were just being silly when they sang that there is a place for us.
But I hope not.
I saw something else on Twitter late last night. Something like, “You want to help, donate here.” It was a post for the website of the “Ferguson Municipal Public Library”. The public library in Ferguson, Missouri that was staying open when the schools were closing so that kids in their town would have somewhere to go. Never mind the fact that it is a library. I don’t know about you but I cannot imagine my life without a library. Free books. Free entertainment. Free fantastic journeys. Rows and aisles and stacks of wonder and magic and opinion and, yes, escape. From the TV images. For a while.
So I remembered that when I woke up this morning and found that post on Twitter again and clicked the PayPal button and donated $5 to the library system in Ferguson. And when I received the receipt for my donation back in my email I moved it to my folder marked “Important Business”. Not much, a little more than 1/20th of my remaining income for the month. But something.
“Someday, we’ll find a new way of living.” That’s what white Tony sings to Puerto Rican Maria. It didn’t work out for them. It’s not working out so well in Ferguson. Or most anywhere else. But it could. It can. Just maybe not today.