A few years ago now, I recorded a little video explaining my sense of the need for A New Narrative.
Since that time, I've been really keeping my eye on that story of good and evil, on all the places it shows up, all the scenes it animates, all the excitement and passion it stirs. And this week feels like a poignant climax of that investigation.
Earlier in the week, I saw an angry post from one of my friends on Facebook about the white woman, Amy Cooper, who called the police on a black man, Christian Cooper, in Central Park. As I watched the viral video and learned what occurred, I decided to post an article on my Facebook page, share my own thoughts about the harshness of what was happening to the woman, and invite the friend who'd written that angry post to engage.
The conversation on my post went in a few different directions, felt a bit heated and divided at times, and ultimately I landed here with a final comment:
I know these are sensitive issues, and among everyone who has commented on this thread, I feel the common goal of a more unified and just society where these horrible acts of racially motivated violence end. I very much appreciate that in each of you, even if my comments didn't make that clear. My intention in posting this was really about the means to get to that more unified and just society. Personally, I strongly dislike the way we use social media to attack and try to cancel or destroy people. The energy behind all that judgement and anger feels like the very same energy we're trying to eliminate. The fact that this woman has received death threats shows just how overblown this kind-of energy can get when we feed it. To me, that energy is the real monster we need to work with, and it's in all of us. And Christian Cooper is a lovely example of not feeding that energy here, being the one in the news today asking people to stop with those attacks and admitting he can't know what's in her mind and heart. We can only know ourselves, and I truly believe the greatest change we can bring to the world is by how we change ourselves.
By the time I closed out my post with that comment, the reaction to the George Floyd killing by a Minnesota police officer was ramping up. A strange energy started to permeate social media, and I could feel a sense that people likely were or would be judging my post as a defense of a racist.
I kept hearing messages: if you aren't angry, making calls for justice, feeling this way, doing that thing, then it's because you don't care, you're a closeted Amy Cooper, you're a racist white cop in disguise. The "unfriend me if...." posts start flying.
And as I learned of the escalating looting, violence and destruction in Minnesota, I felt such a sense that these two were linked. That there was this monster of energy, growing and engulfing people in its flames: an impassioned story of good and evil gone wild.
By the time I finally got out for a walk to work out all the energy building up in me, I felt like an emotionally filled balloon about to burst. When the trail opened up to a spot where I could just be alone and look out at the river, the tears started falling. As I was standing there, I remembered crying in that same spot years ago when I was reeling off the news of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. It was very much the same feeling: confusion and grief about why such horrible things happen in our world, why they keep happening.
And as I continued on into the woods, I held my sadness and my hope. I let the sense that I have no idea what to do, how to help, what is needed continue to wash over me. Not a hopelessness or frustration, but rather just holding a space in myself.
When I hit this point in the trees that felt far away: no people ahead or behind, no rustling leaves warning of anyone on the way, I felt myself break down in a much stronger fit of tears. "What is needed here?" I felt myself ask with my whole being, and like it was coming from the wise trees:
Recognize that this pain is all of your pain, that the trauma and torment of slavery lives in all whose ancestors were involved, no matter the role. Perpetrators of harm are haunted on the inside by the pain the have caused. Victims are shaped by the harm that's been done to them. Even if one's ancestors weren't directly involved, still, as members of this human family, the pain is all of your pain. You all yearn for the pain to be heard, seen, felt, healed. The human race is one interconnected whole, your pain and healing are inextricably connected.
As I finished my walk, I started getting this sense of a "redemptive narrative." It's a phrase that struck me a few weeks ago, but it wasn't coming into any form until I was walking that last stretch back to my car.
I sensed a story that could be told of the history of the United States that includes the story of the white people who came from Europe, killing and tricking the Indigenous people they encountered here, enslaving people they kidnapped from their African homes to do the hard work of establishing a home on this soil. A narrative that is honest and real and forthcoming about how the mixing of cultures here began.
And then the story steps back and shows that this painful history was setting the scene for something to come. The mixing of cultures in such a dramatic and tumultuous history created a great richness of lessons and opportunities for love, strength, courage and wisdom. It provided the material for creating infinite scenarios to push humans to continually evolve, melt boundaries, see themselves in others who at first appeared so different.
And in this story, our collective pain isn't wrong, isn't a mistake, isn't something we need to rid ourselves of or forget. It need not be blamed on anyone or burden anyone; rather, it is our shared birthright, our common teacher, the alchemist that has made us all wiser, kinder and more powerful than the people who came before.
Hmmm, look forward to sitting with this one, and seeing where it leads...