Keep calm, wash your hands, & carry on.
Look for ways to serve one another.
We’re hoping Noa Baum will still be performing A Land Twice Promised at Richmond’s First Baptist Church May 2 as a part of our Hearts Afire Storytelling Series.
Click for tickets:
You don’t want to miss this show or her workshop on using story to build community.
If however, we’re still quarantined, Storytellers Channel will do its best to figure out a way to bring this wonderful story to you.
Remember: You Matter. Your Stories Matter. Tell Them Well!
The Storytellers Channel
It was a typical November morning, dark. I stood at the window watching for the headlights of the school bus. I was enjoying the warmth of the radiator through my grey flannel slacks. The warmth superseded their itchiness. Most of the time it felt like I had fire ants running up and down my legs. Even at 11, I loved the look, but I was an adult before I discovered that men’s flannels were lined to the knee. A sop to comfort our school uniform did not provide.
We always dressed up on Fridays for Assembly. The entire K-8 student body attended, and the sixth graders had a special role. Each week one of us read the 23rd Psalm. And this Friday, November 22, 1963, was my day.
We were all seated in the gymnasium and I noticed what looked like blood on my slacks. Upon closer examination it was rust from the barber wire fence that marked the boundary we were not to cross. On the other side of that fence was the woods and a short stroll into the woods was Swift Creek. The older boys would hop the fence and hide out smoking cigarettes. Here I sat, getting ready to read from the Bible, and sporting clear evidence that I had at least been to the edge.
Then I remember being distracted as the lights caught gleaming white shirt collars peaking out from a sea of Navy blazers. This constellation of reflections reminded me of the light bouncing off the flowing creek water and ricocheting from tree to tree.
Then, it was time for the Assembly to begin and holding my King James I was ready to walk up for my moment in the sun. I had practiced my opening line, “The Lord is my shepherd.” When Mr. Gill, the headmaster, motioned for me to keep my seat. He said, “We will not be holding Assembly, today. Everyone is to return to their classrooms in an orderly manner and we will begin boarding the buses, immediately afterwards. No one knew what was going on. I remember being disappointed I hadn’t had my chance to read.
My bus was the last to load and so we were playing football on the lawn. It took and hour and a half to get home. When I arrived, I discovered President Kennedy had been assassinated. This was the second time death had touched my life. My momma’s daddy, Pawpaw, had passed away the previous year. It had only been 34 months to the day from the President’s inauguration. He had proudly announced that this was the passing of the baton to a new generation of leaders. Men born in the 20th century. He’d told us to ask not what our country could do for us; ask what we could do for our country. He’d said together we could make the world a better place. And now he was gone. The world would never be the same again.
Where once we’d been woven together in our hope for the future; we were now woven together in our grief.
Less than five years later on April 4, 1968 a man who had reminded us, “It’s always the right time to do the right thing.” Was shot down on a balcony in Nashville. Two months later, President Kennedy’s brother was assassinated in Los Angeles. A man who had said, “Some men see things as they are and ask, ‘Why?” I see things that never were and ask, “Why not?” Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were the beacons of our renewed hope. Once again, the world would never be the same. And once again, we were woven together in our grief.
Then President Nixon resigned, the war in Vietnam ended and finally 15 years later on November 9, 1989 the Berlin Wall came down and within a year painted on a remnant of the wall could be found the African proverb:
Many small people in many small places doing many small things can alter the face of the world.
Reminding us of Margret Mead’s iconic statement “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
We celebrated the end of the Cold War. We were united, woven together into a fabric, a fabrication. Deluded in believing all was right with the world. To the victor belonged the spoils and the US of A was now the undisputed champion of the world.
But we were not the only ones to read the sign on the wall. We were not the only one’s to listen to Dr. Mead, for on September 11, 2001 a small groups of committed men destroyed thousands of lives and once again, we were woven together in grief. This time the world rose and came to our aid offering us solace as we mourned.
Ten years later, in a service commemorating the sacrifices made on that terrible day and the months, weeks, and days following, President Obama said, “Even the smallest act of service, the simplest act of kindness, is a way to honor those we lost. A way to reclaim that spirit of unity that followed 9/11.”
We were woven together again in loss, in grief, in memory.
And now the date of January 20, 2020 marks another threshold. Another doorway we as a nation have innocently walked through with little awareness that nothing would ever be the same again. Regardless of the losses we heard about since New Years’ Eve in Wuhan Province, China; a place many of us would have been hard placed to find on a map. The Corona Virus now known as Covad-19 was something happening “over there”.
In less than three weeks, it was here. And it appears to be here to stay. All of the inhabitants of this tiny, blue marble hanging out in space are vulnerable. And once again the warp and weft of our social, economic, and spiritual fabric is being pulled apart. Right when we feel the need to draw closer, we are forced into isolation to slow the spread of this virulent scourge. Once again, nothing will ever be the same again.
I have listened to old people lament change my whole life. Now that I am an old person, I hear my peers lament the world has gone to hell in a hand basket. I’ve never had time for this sort of kvetching.
I lament some of the choices I’ve made in my life, but I’ve no control over external forces. I’m only responsible for my behavior. And as such I celebrate our resilience. Not just Americans, we exceptional ones, but all of humanity.
The world is less violent today that it has ever been in its history. There is less poverty than there has ever been. Modern medicine has greater capacity than ever. Just in my short 67 years, we’ve survived losses big and small. We’ve learned to work with one another, and we’ve learned there have been unintended consequences of some of our prosperity for which we are striving to find solutions. Not fast enough for some, too fast for others.
This enforced seclusion we’re currently enduring is providing us opportunities to exhibit those small acts of kindness and service President Obama called us to 9 years ago.
Grieve our losses if you must, but save the bulk of your energy, your will for capitalizing on this unanticipated opportunity. Learn something new during this sabbatical from commuting. Use the time to lose weight or strengthen your core; to reconnect with family, friends, with yourself, with the Divine. Read, write, sing, dance, grow and most of all celebrate.
Celebrate, the threads of the tapestry of your life: the incidents and the people. Strengthen the whole, mend the wear and tear. Treat this time as a gift, nurture yourself and yours. Take this respite to reorient and be prepared to embrace society when we’re free to hug again.
And remember, this won’t be over then, this is our new normal. This pesky little bug will return and until we have a vaccine or have survived the disease and built our own antibodies we will probably experience another lockdown in the fall or next winter.
But as the Brits say, “Stay Calm and Carry on.”
After all, there’s a lotta we in weave and we’re woven tight and strong. And remember: we’ve weathered worse.
There is another line in the 23rd from which I take solace.
Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For thou art with me.
Bless y’all, we’re in this together and we will come through this.
I Want to Hear from You
I’d love to hear your stories.
Share with me stories that matter to you.
Stories to give us all the heart to persevere.
Til next time,