Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Three Deep Breaths

Reading the news
and all the angry discussion
about which lives matter
enough to be angry about, particularly,
and which lives matter not
particularly but only beneath
a blanket statement of generalized compassion
(assuming compassion and prayer
are a zero-sum game),
I keep thinking
about my body
and about three deep breaths.

The month I rode my bicycle in a giant circle
I learned that when the wind is against me
I cry out to God at the injustice
but when the wind's at my back
I barely notice
and I don't pray much
because I'm making it
by my own hard work.

The other thing I learned
is that I am a body
and if I don't slow down and pay attention
to feelings as they arise
—in that case, joint pain—
then my body
and its cries of pain
can't trust that anyone is really here
to serve and protect.

Reading the news and all the discussion
about systems, principles, history,
statistics, slogans, policies,
unhelpful reactions,
I keep thinking
about three deep breaths.

Three deep breaths.
What if the officer had taken three deep breaths
before approaching Philando Castile's window?
Three little nudges
to wake his inner Mother:
I'm scared, and I need you to hold me,
and I need you to show me
this darkness holds no monsters,
—See, it's only a black man—
but mostly
I need you to stay with me.
Suppose the officer, gripping his gun,
slowed to imagine the gentle hand of his mother
gripping his wrist.

Suppose the next time
I'm walking down a dark street
and I pass a strong black man
and my heart rate increases
and my palms get slightly sweaty—
suppose before I either walk faster
or invite my inner protester
to declare as racist
me or my amygdala
or my upbringing in White America—
suppose I invite a light of gentleness
and wakefulness
bright enough to embrace me
and my fear and my white shame
and my anger over all of it
and the strong black man.
I hear you. I see you.

I see you, strong black man
and hold in mind the possibility
that you're more afraid in this town
than I am—our adorable town
where not long ago a black pastor
from a neighborhood church
was out visiting a parishioner
and a cop pulled her over
just to tell her
she doesn't belong in this neighborhood—
I see you, strong black man.

I see you, fear, shame, anger
and I'm here, awake,
two feet on the ground
and I won't let you pull me along
and neither will I push you away
or pretend you don't exist.

Three deep breaths.
Suppose every officer took three deep breaths
before approaching any civilian?

Suppose we each took three deep breaths
after each social media post we read
and took time to hear
the suffering behind the words?
Suppose we took three deep breaths
before clicking "Post",
before pulling the trigger
unleashing on this weary world
yet another bullet of hardened anger
engraved unhelpfully with the words,
"End the violence" or "All lives matter"?

Suppose tonight after dark
when I'm playing Pokémon GO
at the outlet mall, creeping
among The Gap and Planet Fitness and hot yoga
and the Dutch Village
and a police SUV slows down
and I nod and gesture slightly with my extended phone
as if to say, I'm not what you're looking for
suppose at that moment I slow and take three deep breaths,
nudging the Mother to hear the cries of pain
of all the members of my Body:

all the real suffering of Children
who feel less safe
with cops than without;

all the real suffering of Children
who don't feel safe around black people—
because fear itself is suffering;

all the real suffering of Children
fallen in shame
over the color of their skin;

all the real suffering
from racism in our neighborhoods
and our hearts—
because prejudice itself is suffering;

all the real suffering
caused in unjustifiable reaction
to justifiable anger;

and all the real suffering
caused by anger itself.
Because like fear and shame and prejudice,
anger is suffering
until it prays for the Mother's embrace.

In: I see you, fear.
Out: I'm here for you, fear.
In: I see you, shame.
Out: I'm here for you, shame.
In: I see you, anger.
Out: I'm here for you, anger.