I saw these words graffitied in Spanish on a wall in downtown Guatemala City six years ago. It's a gutteral cry we know, all too well, in all the forms and languages it assumes on all kinds of walls around the world, stopping us mid-walk, mid-sentence, mid-week, mid-life.
I've seen the posts on facebook this past week, the passionate calling for writer voices to chime in on what's happening in Ferguson. And I'll just lay it out right here, bare and honest and yes, even ashamed: I've had nothing to say. Nothing, that is, that's well-informed, authentically passionate, or worth adding my nasally voice to a riot crying out rightfully for justice.
I've had nothing to say because, in all honesty, I haven't sat still long enough to let the reality of what's happened, what is still happening, of where our country - and me, in my white skin - are still at, all these supposedly enlightened decades past the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement. I haven't sifted through all the overwhelming piles of information for the stories that are crying out for us to hear, for me to hear.
I haven't listened, truly listened, and I'm not proud to admit this. In listening, I haven't reached a place, yet, of lamenting what is. And until that happens, I don't want to write from any less of a place.
I need to know my place in this story.
I don't yet.
And there's something else. Something I'm quite nervous to say here or anywhere, for that matter, because I'm certain it will offend or perhaps be misunderstood. And I really don't go looking for that. But I'm going out on a limb, again, because that's where I've promised myself I'd be willing to go in my writing - and hopefully, in my life.
I can't promise I'll take up the cause of Ferguson, even with the reading and the listening and the lamenting.
I can't promise my heart will drive me to go in there in person, in action, in my writing, where this grievous eye-opener of Michael Brown's murder and the unrest in Ferguson has already taken others. All I can say is that, having opened my heart to the stark inequalities that still exist in this country, to my own prejudices and racism - because, we all have them, don't we? - my heart will have changed. If it doesn't move me in some way to see the world different, to change my perceptions, to demand, in the ways I can, that things be different, I am not listening.
But that doesn't mean I'll pick up my pen and write the way that my sister or brother will.
Because how do we choose which causes to take up in our writing, in our songs, in the daily living of our lives? On any given day, I can wonder why more people aren't writing on the air strikes in Iraq, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the ongoing ravages and bloodshed in Israel and Palestine, the increasing tensions in North and South Korea, the desperation of illegal immigrants crossing our borders and being sent back to poverty or death, or the Ebola outbreaks in West Africa. I don't have to look farther than the face of the homeless wanderers that daily drift through my Starbucks or lay passed out on the streets of my city to be confronted with my privilege and questions of responsibility. I don't have to do more than walk outside and feel the changing climate and see the effects of pollution in the places I love to know, in some deep and horrifying way, that we have all but destroyed this beautiful place we've been given, that the damage is irreversible.
No, it's not an excuse to do nothing, to say nothing, to not care. But can we step back and at least grant that we each sing our own impassioned songs, scrawling our diverse outcries for justice in this world on whichever walls and mirrors we can find? That we need all these voices. And more than we need all of us crying out at the same time, we need to know when it's our turn to kneel down and listen to these songs that are different than ours and open our hearts to their haunting cries. And then, to sing our own songs back into the crowd, to the face in our mirrors, to the sphere of earth that we call home, and hope, in time, they move mountains.
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Joining the lovely community of Unforced Rhythms, where a group of us write and sing our life songs every Monday at Kelli's.