Early in the coronavirus pandemic, I put a table with colored chalk and hand sanitizer near my front sidewalk with a sign reading, “Please draw a picture or message of hope. Please use sanitizer before and after. Stay safe. Stay well.”
Almost instantly, people began drawing and writing. When rain washed away the chalk, they drew new pictures. Week by week the pattern continues: hope drawn, hope gone, hope drawn. The resilience of hope visible on my sidewalk.
When I first set out the chalk, I had no idea what would happen. Would we become the crazy people with chalk in front of their house? Would anyone draw? Would it matter? Like priming the pump at a fundraiser, I drew a smiley face to get things started, then took my dogs for a walk.
By the time I returned, there were pictures on the sidewalk. Within days, there were rainbows, flowers, stars, a car and a unicorn. There have been trucks, cats, dogs, houses, families, and smiley faces–even one wearing a mask. Today there are fireworks, pets, mountains, and flowers on my sidewalk.
I was moved by what people drew that first week. I was awed. I still am.
Some people draw, others write messages: Believe hope will come. We will get through this. Love, Peace, Hope. Be Kind. Wash your hands. Thanks for letting us draw. Together.
My sidewalk makes people smile in an otherwise grim time.
People have been leaving messages and drawing pictures ever since. Some people pause to look at the drawings and smile as they continue walking. Parents have said my sidewalk is their child’s favorite part of their daily walk. Teens have shown me which pictures they drew and messages they wrote. Adults have thanked me for giving them a place to share. The sidewalk project has helped build a sense of community that counters our isolation. When I need a lift, I walk out to my sidewalk and feel hopeful that we will make it through.
As the weeks pass and the world around us changes, so, too, have the messages changed. They began with “Stay safe; Wash your hands; Love, Joy, Hope; Hope will come.” After the killing of George Floyd, they’ve included “Black Lives Matter,” and “This Sidewalk Is a Blessing.” June arrived and “Happy Pride Month” appeared. This weekend, someone wrote “Just Mask Up or Stay Home” in beautiful colors. Always, there are messages of “Be kind; It will be OK; We’ll get through this.”
Today the sidewalk art includes green mountains beneath a blue sky and yellow sun, “Black Lives Matter, Just Mask Up or Stay Home,” a house, fireworks, a dog saying “Woof,” and flowers. When my own green shoots of hope wilt in the face of the day’s news, I stand at my sidewalk and feel hopeful.
“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love,” says Mother Teresa. I can’t do great things to change the world, but I can do small things with love. One of those small things is to set out chalk and sanitizer and create a canvas for people to share dreams, resilience, and hope with others.
Even when it’s washed away, hope is resilient. Breathe it in: We will make it through.
The release of videos of George Floyd and Ahmoud Arbury’s murders and Breonna Taylor’s death at the hands of police, combined with the systemic racism made evident by the Coronavirus Pandemic, has finally convulsed the U.S. in outrage. It’s time for a giant leap forward as a country.
The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus wept when he heard his friend, Lazarus, had died (John 11:35). Those words, “Jesus wept,” echoed in my heart over and over as I watched the videos of Floyd’s death, demonstrations against police brutality, and violence by civilians and police. I wanted to do something to make things better but sat numb with tears on my cheeks, instead.
Also echoing in my heart was the part of what Christians call “Palm Sunday” in which Jesus weeps over Jerusalem and, according to the Gospel of Luke, says, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace: But now they are hidden from your eyes” (Luke 19:42). It seemed to me that Jesus was weeping with us, as well. Oh, that we knew the things that make for peace.
The Impact of Privilege
I write this as a white American woman privileged by the color of my skin in ways that I am still trying to understand even after years of growth. White privilege is so ubiquitous that calling it to our attention is like trying to get a fish to notice the water in which it swims. Changing metaphors, understanding how privilege works is like peeling layer after layer of an onion.
White privilege affects every dimension of life–for good and ill– from the time a person of any race is born in this country. George Floyd’s murder and the Coronavirus Pandemic are an inflection point challenging us to look in the mirror so that we might see the inequality reflected there and our participation in it.
One example of my privilege is my freedom from fear that I–or a partner, friend, or family member–will be harassed, beaten, or killed while doing the ordinary things of life such as going to the grocery, jogging through the neighborhood, sitting in a car with friends, or sleeping one’s own bed. I don’t worry whether the males in my family will return home alive each time I tell them goodbye. No African American in this country shares that privilege.
Another example: When I see flashing red and blue lights behind me, I worry about the cost of a traffic ticket but not if I’ll be killed. No African American shares that privilege, either, no matter their age, education, or social status. College professors, members of Congress, corporate C.E.O’s, and firefighters have been questioned and harassed by police officers solely because their race made them seem “suspicious” to white folk.
George Floyd’s murder triggered the protests of the past two weeks, but the power and size of the protests are rooted in four centuries of systemic racism. From economics to criminal justice, health care to pollution, education to employment, politics to internet access, systemic racism affects every dimension of American life.
The United States of America can only be its best self when we address the systemic racism and unconscious biases that pervade it. If we are to become a more perfect union and the country the world needs us to be, we must set aside the patterns of privilege and systemic racism in which we swim.
Moving beyond tears
The day after the Trump Administration cleared a peaceful protest in Lafayette Park with tear gas and rubber bullets so the President could hold up a Bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, for a campaign photo, I opened my own Bible re-read the stories surrounding Jesus’ tears in John 11:35 and Luke 19:42.
This time, I noticed that the stories don’t stop with Jesus’ tears. Jesus’ grief moves him to action in both. He dries his tears and goes to work. Jesus raises Lazarus to life, telling bystanders to unwrap Lazarus’ bindings of death. They do. Lazarus lives.
Jesus leaves the Mount of Olives after his words to Jerusalem and rides into the city. He drives money changers from the temple, heals the sick, confronts oppressive power, and teaches a message of love. He is killed for being a threat to established power.
No less than Jesus was, we are called by God to dry our tears, channel our anger and grief, and focus our energy on doing that which brings life, creates justice, and makes for peace,
White folk like me need to educate ourselves about racism, systemic racism, and privilege; and our role in them. We need to do this without asking people of color to teach us. It is not their burden to educate us. It’s our responsibility to listen, learn, and act; our responsibility to be humble, pry our fingers from power, and with our siblings of color create a country where all God’s children live truly free.
Staying home during the pandemic doesn’t have to mean being passive. To my white brothers, sisters, and siblings, in particular, there are actions we can take against systemic racism even as we follow health guidelines and stay safe during the pandemic.
Anti-Racism Actions During Quarantine
The Impact of Systemic Racism and White Privilege –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in The Age of Color Blindness, by Michelle Alexander –White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, by Robin History –The 1619 Project by Nicole Hannah-Jones of the New York Times (here) –Taylor Branch’s 3-part history of the King Years:Parting the Waters (1954-’63), Pillar of Fire (1963-’65), and At Canaan’s Edge (1965-’68) Changing Ourselves, Our Workplace, Community, and Country –How to Be an Anti-Racist, by Ibram X. Kendi –Thrive: The Facilitator’s Guide to Radically Inclusive Meetings by Mark Smutny –Better Allies: Everyday Actions to Create Inclusive, Engaging Workplaces, by Karen Caitlin Poetry and Prose –I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou –Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Novel, by Zora Neale Hurston Book Lists and Links –Vroman’s Bookstore of Pasadena Anti-racism Reading List(for adults, youth, and children) -Third Place Books of Seattle Anti-Racism Audiobook List –Black-Owned Bookstores on libro.fm can be found on this Instagram post.
-Several states (primarily in the South) have removed people from voting roles to affect election results. Many of these people first learn about their removal when they try to vote. Join the Reclaim Our Vote Postcard Campaign (here) to notify these voters in time for them to clarify and restore their status. ROV has already contacted over 1.5 million voters. -Register with Indivisible(here) and/or Black Lives Matter(here) for up-to-date writing, calling, and in-person campaigns. -Additional links to websites, organizations, and resources for change
White People: Weep. Listen. Learn. Act.
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Despite the coronavirus, blue skies, cherry blossoms, and bright daffodils have come to Seattle and I want to be outside with them. I’m tired of my house and of seeing no one but my husband. I love him, but seven weeks of Safe at Home is boring.
Recently, I was so thrilled to have a steering wheel in my hands and an accelerator under my foot as I drove to the pharmacy that I wanted to drive for hours. But, no. I went straight home afterward.
At the same time, I feel comfort and solidarity in knowing that we’re all suffering through this isolation together.
Except that we’re not. Some states carry on as if the coronavirus is no more dangerous than car accidents and seasonal flu. Even in areas with stay-at-home orders, millions of people disregard them. Come on, folks. Millions of people around the world are staying home and sacrificing their income and businesses to save your life. Please return the favor by staying home and saving their life, too. Stay home to make the sacrifices of people who’ve lost their jobs worthwhile.
Stay home to save the lives of people doing work on which all of us depend: first responders and medical workers, custodians and delivery people, cashiers and shelf stockers, drive-up window employees and cooks, warehouse employees and garbage collectors, transit workers, food bank volunteers, and telephone help lines. If you reduce the spread of the coronavirus in your area by staying home, you make their world safer.
We can do this. We can come together as one community–locally, nationally, globally. The coronavirus gives us an opportunity to remember that social solidarity is part of being human. As David Brooks wrote recently in the New York Times,
Social solidarity is an active commitment, not merely a feeling of connection but an “active virtue.” Solidarity recognizes both the inherent worth and dignity of each person and the way we are “embedded in webs of mutual obligation — to one another and to all creation. It celebrates the individual and the whole together.”
. . . It is out of solidarity, and not normal utilitarian logic, that George Marshall in “Saving Private Ryan” endangered a dozen lives to save just one. It’s solidarity that causes a Marine to risk his life dragging the body of his dead comrade from battle to be returned home. It’s out of solidarity that health care workers stay on their feet amid terror and fatigue. Some things you do not for yourself or another but for the common whole.
Screw This Virus!, David Brooks, New York Times, March 19, 2020 see here l
Solidarity is why we stay home even if we feel healthy or invincible or have cabin fever, for we know we might unwittingly pass the virus to others. It’s why we stay six feet apart, hoping that by so doing, we’ll lessen the burden on first responders and medical staff. Solidarity is why we don’t hoard food and supplies but leave plenty for others.
Holy Week seems an appropriate time to write about love and sacrifice, life and death, despair and hope–the themes of life in the coronavirus pandemic. I began this post on Maundy Thursday, the day on the Christian calendar when we believe Jesus said to his disciples, “This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Laying down our life for others is what we do when we stay “safe at home.” When our jobs and business are sacrificed for the “greater good.” When we risk our life in essential jobs, both seen and unseen. When we set aside our work to care for and teach our children at home. When we stay away from church, synagogue, mosque, and temple and postpone weddings and funerals to a safer time. Jesus, who laid down his life for humanity, calls on us now to sacrifice in ways we could not have imagined before coronavirus crashed over us.
On Holy Saturday I returned to writing. This is the day between Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Sunday. Holy Saturday is a day of darkness and despair when Christians keep vigil until Sunday’s dawn. In this space we contemplate our complicity in Jesus’ continuing crucifixion, praying for God’s forgiveness and for a glimmer of hope. Between the crucifixion and resurrection, we, like Jesus’ first disciples, cry out for answers into an echoing silence. We long to know that Life is greater than Death and Good more powerful than Evil. We long for suffering to be redeemed.
That’s what we hope for, too, as we see refrigerator trucks outside hospitals and cars lined up for miles at food banks and unemployment offices. We cry out for answers as nurses and doctors plead for masks and medicine. We long for hope as the death toll climbs and we grieve both those who have died and those yet to succumb. We keep active vigil until Easter dawn.
And now, it is Easter. Christ is risen! Life has overcome death. Good has won and will win the day, somehow, some way, even if we only see glimmers of it now: A violinist serenading an emergency room; a loved one recovering from the virus; a child drawing a rainbow on a sidewalk; a whisper thanks for family and friends, for daffodils, and birds singing. God is not silent but speaking through officials who order social distance and quarantines and nurses who tell the dying they are not alone. God’s love touches us virtually in people who reach out by phone and internet. Love, not death, has the final word.
On this Easter day tombs of despair roll open and hope returns in smiled greetings from six feet away, music played from separate balconies, clapping hands at 7:00 P.M., and DIY masks that tell us someone cares. A new day will dawn fully, eventually. We trust that promise–that suffering will be redeemed–because we have already seen glimmers of light among us.
Yes, Safe at Home is boring and hard. Sacrifice and sorrow are real. Yes, we are in this together, all of us, for we are all God’s children. And yes, if you look carefully you can see glimmers of dawn among us, the light that will fully dawn, some day. Christ is risen.