the terror of decent people

The wind through the trees speaks to me, each leaf part of a collective voice, each a palm, each a map of sorts to a larger world. These living beings know what to do, know what freedom means. Seeds travel on breezes and in the mouths and bellies of birds. Trees put roots down in fertile soil. Geese and butterflies migrate legions of miles. Seas intermingle. Grasses cross natural, manufactured and imagined divides. Rivers breach levies. Clouds rain down quenching all creatures. Nature knows no boundaries. Why should we?

After Calvin's unexpected grand mal at dinner time Saturday night, after we wiped a stream of blood running down out of his mouth, I sat on a stool next to his bed and watched him breathe. I pondering the state of the nation we're in, where blood is shed in massacres which are happening with increasing frequency. Studying my boy's maturing face, I recalled what Frank Borman, Apollo 8 astronaut, said when feasting his eyes on blue Mother Earth from space:

When you're finally up at the moon looking back on earth, all those differences and nationalistic traits are pretty well going to blend, and you're going to get a concept that maybe this really is one world and why the hell can't we learn to live together like decent people.

—Frank Borman, Apollo 8, December 1968

And then, while bitterly lamenting racist despots and White supremacists and the atrocities they commit, I reflected on what the seventeenth-century Dutch physicist, mathematician and astronomer said:

How vast those Orbs must be, and how inconsiderable this Earth, the Theatre upon which all our mighty Designs, all our Navigations, and all our Wars are transacted, is when compared to them. A very fit consideration, and matter of Reflection, for those Kings and Princes who sacrifice the Lives of so many People, only to flatter their Ambition in being Masters of some pitiful corner of this small Spot.

—Christiaan Huygens, The Immense Distance Between the Sun and the Planets, 1698

And yet, on this small spot of glorious planet we share with nature and the rest of humanity, we have an epidemic of Right Wing, White Supremacist terrorism. It's motivated by the erroneous, bigoted and dangerous notion that ours is a White, Christian nation, and inspired by a reckless president bent on maligning People of Color meant  to rile up his base, pitching one struggling human against another while he tweets indignities from his gilded toilet seat.

I think of how these hateful people speak of and treat others who are their mirror image, save what's in their hearts and the pigment in their skin. I hear and read deplorable rhetoric about refugees spewing from fanatical mouths, words like "alien," "animal," "thug," "infestation"—no way to describe decent, loving, striving human beings. Where has our collective humanity gone? It is being poisoned by a fearmonging "leader," a tyrant, liar and thief who preys upon the ignorance and anxiety of people who feel they need someone else to blame.

How foolish to believe that anyone on this hunk of land, one which was stolen from its natives in a heinous genocide, can somehow feel entitled to decide who has the right to call it home.

Yesterday, I watched a video of a Black American with long dreadlocks being harassed by a White police officer in the front yard of his own home. It was a case of mistaken identity. Watching and listening, I heard the anger in the man's voice and the fear in his wife's. History has proven that any false move by the Black man could've resulted in the cop gunning him down. I've seen so many of these kinds of videos I've lost count—White cops shooting decent Black people. White cops and civilians harassing Black men in cars. Black men on sidewalks. Black men picking up garbage outside of their apartment building. Black boys playing in parks. Black men, women and children going to church, having a bbq, entering their own homes, walking across their college campus, sleeping in their dorm’s common room, waiting for a subway, mowing their lawn, entering their apartment building, going home from a pool party, driving to work, crossing a street, waiting for a friend in a Starbuck’s, shopping at Walmart, walking home.

And if you haven't read or seen James Baldwin's, If Beale Street Could Talk, you should; in its words and scenes, you will feel the terror of decent Back people.

These White Nationalist racists have launched an assault on the rest of America, on decent people's freedom to move and to safely exist in our personal and public spaces. They are driven by the fear of being replaced by people who've born the brunt of centuries of White state-sanctioned slavery, family separation, rape, forced labor, harassment, racial profiling, police violence, arrest, incarceration, exploitation, discrimination, marginalization, segregation, disenfranchisement, and demonization.

But as sure as the trees speak to me through the whisper of wind, as sure as the tides flow and recede, the world is evolving, its natural and imagined borders forever changing. Its people put down roots where the ground is most forgiving. We cross divides in search of liberty. We intermingle like the seas. We suffer and triumph and love and bleed the same. Each of us is a leaf on the same tree. We have room enough to shelter one another, and to let each other breathe.

Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

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