It was a day like any other. We stood beside our desks in school, placed our little hands over our hearts and pledged our allegiance to a starry flag, believing what we'd been told: our country was exceptional, our country was the best. But we were sent home from school early that November afternoon so we knew something wasn’t quite right. I ran through the back door and raced down the hallway to find my mother crying in front of the television. The lady on the screen was wearing a suit of vibrant pink but on our black and white set it appeared light grey and oddly streaked with something that looked like dirt. My mother cried all that cold weekend and my father’s jaw was set in what I now know was an effort not to do the same. As parents used to be able to do with their little ones, they kept the details from me. I knew something bad had happened, but I didn’t know what.
They say our country lost its innocence that day. Trust in our government, so strong during the great wars, began to chip away like so much old paint. Conspiracies swirled around the death of our President. Soon black men were being shot with fire hoses in Southern streets, their bodies thrown to the curbs like trash. One hero was blown apart in a Los Angeles hotel dining room, another was picked off a balcony in Memphis by a bullet guided by a hatred both historic and insidious. The dreams and hopes of many were put in the ground along with both men. More innocence dead. More body blows to a idealistic country.
Sheltered on my shady street, my own innocence remained safe. When your parents love each other, and love you - when you’re white - innocence is a relatively easy thing to keep tucked away, pristine in a unpierced heart. Hard as it may be to believe, it has taken the events of this past year to drain the last drops of that golden elixir of innocence from my soul. There’s a little left, but it’s not measurable.
This past year I watched my fellow citizens embrace a man so imbued with hate and mendacity he wore them with utter pride, never bothering to cloak them in neutral colors. I watched as supposed men of faith called this man, “God’s choice”, urged Christians to elect him and, even today, stand by his every action with disgusting, inexplicable, devotion. I have heard the vilest words come, not from the more expected dark corners of our culture, but from the highest pinnacle of our nation’s government. I have watched as lies are praised and paraded. I watched a president speak to our nation’s Boy Scouts in a way that was shudderingly crass, maddeningly crude. Only this week I have seen this man’s repulsive narcissism nudge the world closer to an annihilating war. Only yesterday I saw an evil swarm of his champions, now hoodless and emboldened in the sulphurous light of his support, bring their dark hatred to the sunshine of Virginia.
Any innocence or idealism I may have secreted away during my youth is dripping away with alarming speed. I thought we were better. I thought we had learned. I thought that those who taught me the ways of God believed the words that they spoke. I thought there was a line that couldn’t, or wouldn’t, be crossed. I now know better.
This blog has always been a place for me to revel in the beauty of life. It’s been hard to write these past few months. Oh, don’t misunderstand me. I know the beauty is still there. I see it; I appreciate it. It gives me comfort. But to write continually about my joys and loves as I’ve done for the past nine years seems, at this moment, almost trivial. At present we are in a battle for our souls, individually and as a country, and this battle weighs heavily on my heart and mind.
A wise women recently said, “We don't think our way to hope. We take the actions, and then the insight follows. The insight is that hope springs from awareness of love, immersion in love, commitment to love.” For myself, that’s all I know to do. Each action I take, every activity in which I engage, I am endeavoring to do them with love. Caring for The Songwriter, Edward and Apple. Caring for my colorful little cottage. Cooking meals. Filling old vases with flowers. Knitting. Reading. Making myself a cup of tea. Sharing a smile and a friendly word with strangers even when I myself am worried and anxious. Helping where I can, listening when I can. Surrounding myself with brave people who know what’s at stake, who lift me up, make me laugh and bring a flicker of hope to my heart. And perhaps as important, letting go of that which gives me pain.
Once lost, I’m not sure innocence can be regained, or even if it should. But hope is different. As Emily told us, hope is a thing with feathers. It may fly away in a storm, but that doesn’t mean it will never again flutter down to perch in our souls. That is what I wish for all of us in these days as we remind ourselves that what we are witnessing is not a great America. It is not who we are. It is not normal. It is not Christian. It will not last.