I wear a long white coat to the Refuge hoping that on my bicycle I will glow in the dark. I decide that biking through the cemetery alone at night is not a good idea, so I take Ballard Road, the long way around. John and Chris pass in a little gray car, though I arrive at the door before them, cars parked all the way out to the cemetery.It’s so crowded, John won’t go in, but Chris does.
A large man sings his woeful, soulful songs.
Gypsy* points out his art on the chapel wall, the pledge of allegiance written around the American flag and a heart stabbed with a rusty nail.
The man in the black hat tells me about his trip to Standing Rock where thousands are gathered to halt the construction of a pipeline through native burial grounds.
I’m trying to imagine what that experience is like.
I feel the pull, the draw of the spectacle, the energy of a movement, the making of an important moment in history, the power in the rising of wronged people, happening right now while I sit here in a warm house, the sun setting on a holiday where we flew and drove and gorged ourselves, we, the “consumers” as we are now known, buying more than our fair share, driving the wheels which churn the oil.
Still, we want to help. We want justice. We want to be absolved of the crimes of our ancestors and our politicians.
When I was in college, there was the Gulf War, though we hardly knew what was going on; we were thrilled to be re-living the ’60s, organizing a teach-in where a speaker who droned on and on about what I did not know (focused as I was on trying to decipher all the intricate social dynamics of the growing movement). I clapped absentmindedly at one of her communist remarks, causing the organizers to scowl at me.
I thought we were for the communists!
None of it made much sense, but it was exciting: hopping in a van and driving to D.C. to protest in the streets, carrying a banner made of an old sheet we’d painted with two guns whose barrels curved around to make a heart. Meanwhile, I was trying to organize a tryst with a guy we ran into from Omaha.
I like to think I would do it again – run off tomorrow propelled by heady ideals, if it weren’t for so many complicating factors.
Who will take care of the kids?
And then I realize, we should bring them along! Is there any better history lesson than this? But inertia and habit and obligations and a certain sort of logic prevent us from undertaking such an excursion. So here I sit and ponder.
What is our role in such inequalities and turns of fortune? How much responsibility do we each bear? What are the consequences of our actions? The influence of our inactions? What crimes does complacency breed?
I once took a college seminar with a famous professor who, impatient with our timidity and reluctance to think for ourselves, posed this question: What would have happened if every Jew had done what only the rarest ones did: fight, stabbing a German guard with a dinner fork?
*Gypsy looks like a she, but is a he. Gypsy is our alderman. Gypsy has giant dreadlocks, piercings up and down both ears and the number pi tattooed up his leg. I love running into Gypsy because he always had something interesting to say. When Gypsy was seven, living in China, he heard a tale about a girl who was inhabited by a male spirit and Gypsy thought, that’s me.