Passage leaves evidence. There are always ripples when stones meet ponds and boats in motion leave waves in their, well, in their wake. I think that’s one of the reasons I blog.
Riding to work on one of Chicago’s water taxi’s the other morning, I saw a sign on the Clark Street bridge I’ve passed a hundred times and never really noticed. No Wakes.
On the surface, such guidance is understandable. It is not helpful for reckless boaters to be sending waves crashing up against the shore. Waves erode. They upset. By their very nature, they make us feel unbalanced. Unsafe.
But water without waves is unavoidable. Ask any surfer.
Off the water, I have become very angry. I’m feeling frustrated. It feels like no matter what I do here or anywhere else in my life, nothing is seemingly altering our trajectory as a People plunging headlong into chaos while also being seduced into a numb acceptance of the world as it is. I hate that.
I care deeply. I have fought hard to get in touch with my anger that sources back to my childhood. I have waged war to redefine the power of love in my live. But for all of that, I resent it when I hear myself still asking why. But there is no healthy reason in ignoring such a simple question. I don’t want the only time my Soul is quiet to be when I’m asleep. I want to be awake. As my grandpa used to say, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”.
Chicago is my city. As a youngster looking across the corn fields at night, I could faintly see the glow of the city on the horizon. ‘I’m going to live there someday’. And I do. I’m proud of making that happen. It is good.
But depending on where you live in this City of Neighborhoods, it can be a very dangerous place…especially if you aren’t white. The Better Government Association here in Chicago has discovered that we have had more people shot by police than any other major metropolitan city in the entire nation. The middle east has nothing on us. Set in Chicago, maybe Spike Lee wasn’t wrong in naming his latest movie what he did.
I’ve wrestled with how to report to you from my fair city. The news outlets all seem to fawn for up-close video footage of the protesters on North Michigan Avenue over the past few days after the release of the footage of Laquan McDonald being shot 16 times by a Chicago Police officer. Some reports say the officer had barely been out of his vehicle 30-seconds before he started shooting, emptying his weapon into the body of Mr. McDonald. I will not participate in showing the video here. I will not stoke the voyeuristic feeding frenzy of that night some 13-months ago or the murder charges filed against the Chicago police officer – this past week.
I will also report that I’m having mixed emotions about the resulting protests here. They haven’t involved thousands. I thought they might. There have not been riots like there were in Ferguson after the shooting death of Michael Brown in 2014. I’m glad of that, but on the other hand, if not this, what is worth rioting about? Have I and my fellow Chicagoans been lulled asleep by the constant drumbeat of yet another shooting? I resent Monday morning newscasts that bring word of another violent weekend where it isn’t the police shooting us, but us shooting others. It takes work to be awake. It takes so much less effort to be walking around in a self-inflicted haze in an effort to disconnect from all the pain. What can I do? I’m just one man.
In an odd juxtaposition, one of the things I have come to appreciate about my city is walking to work along the Chicago River. Back in the day, the river was so polluted and choked with trash, the running joke was anyone could walk on water in Chicago. No miracle.
Peppered with parks, performance venues and gathering spots, the wide sidewalks make running and biking an event. Being a pedestrian has become enjoyable – and I live here. The river walk has brought us down to the edge of the water running through us and touched the people. The water is good. The wildlife abundant and the work to make the river accessible is a priority for the City and her Citizens.
Walking from the train to the office every day is very good for me and for all kinds of reasons. But every once and awhile, I like to ride instead. For that, there are the water taxis.
$3 and 12-minutes will get you from Union Station to the Wrigley Building at the bridge across Michigan Avenue. The change in perspective from what I’m used to seeing at street level is a lot of fun. But boats are not buses and the water holds different rules.
No Wake. From my nautical days, I know it means go slow and leave no wake behind your vessel. Put in the vernacular, ‘Don’t make waves’. I’m conflicted.
Earlier this week, the first suspect was charged in the assassination of 9-year old Tyshawn Lee. Having stopped at a neighborhood park to play along the way, young Mr. Lee was headed to his grandmother’s south side home. Police later found his body, having been shot five times, laying in an alley near the park with his beloved basketball a few feet away from the corpse. The suspect (who I will not name) is reported to have known the boy and his mother for years and allegedly played a central role in luring the youngster to the killing spot to settle a gang dispute. Every media outlet in town carried reporting from the church where his wake was held. Young Mr. Lee, now buried, has become just another point on a grisly scoreboard that has nothing to do with anything good.
And while my city bleeds, politicians here and elsewhere have been whipping up all kinds of fear about letting Syrian refugees immigrate to the United States. “Bring me your tired and weary…” no longer means what we’ve stood for as a nation populated by people that have come from somewhere else. We’re being told we should be afraid of ‘those people‘ who want better for themselves and their families. That ‘they‘ want to kill us in our beds.
And then, a lone man walks into a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs this past Friday and started shooting. Three people died. One of them was Garrett Swasey, a six-year veteran of the University of Colorado police force, father of two and a volunteer pastor. Officer Swasey was one of the dozens of police officers responding to protect our fellow citizens inside that building. Of the nine wounded, five were police officers. These are the men and woman that make being a police officer noble. Black Friday, indeed.
No wonder I’m awash in conflicting emotions. How can there be no wake with the passing of all these Souls? Where are the waves?
Wakes began as the practice of staying with the body to protect it from plunder or abduction prior to burial. But there was another very good reason for the wake. It was important to be there for your loved one in case the deceased wasn’t really dead. I know it sounds bizarre, but without modern medical measurements, it happened more often than you might think.
As a point of fact and in the wake of the cholera epidemics of the 18th and 19th centuries, it was not accidental to begin equipping coffins with a string that ran up to a bell above the grave. And now, intrepid reader, you now know the origins of the expression, ‘Saved by the bell‘. I’m not dead. I’m not at my wake. I am awake.
Why does nothing change in our democratic form of government?
Here’s one very good reason. We don’t turn out to vote. We’re asleep. Politicians get elected by fewer and fewer of us. They act on their own agendas or those of their billionaire backers with little concern for any consequences. I am ashamed when I catch myself asking, ‘what can I do…my vote doesn’t count’ And it doesn’t. Could it be that there are some who want nothing more than for me and the millions of my fellow members of the electorate to fall asleep all at once and stay home in our proverbial beds on election day?
I grew up being told I didn’t matter. I was to be seen and not heard. It made me into a pressurized amalgam of fear, frustration and anger. All of it translated into silence…afraid to make waves. The better me knows there are so many other emotions to the human experience besides fear and anger. What really scares me is the moment I quit striving to experience anything else, I’ve settled.
I don’t want to settle. I hate being tempted to quit. I don’t want to go to sleep. I want my passage to have caused some waves. I want to be part of the difference.
“Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. Indeed, it is a weapon unique in history, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr.,The Quest for Peace and Justice (1964) Martin Luther King’s Nobel Lecture, delivered in the Auditorium of the University of Oslo at December 11, 1964
The kicker is how I go about the business of incorporating King’s adaptation of Ghandi’s approach of non-violence as a way for me to affect social change for the better. I must be convicted. I must be constant. I must participate. I must vote. I must write. I am awake. So are you. So let’s celebrate the holidays and make some trouble. Let’s do lots of little things that leave evidence in our wake that we are awake.
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow; learn as if you were to live forever.
The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.
Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”
– Mahatma Ghandi
As has become my custom, I’m going to be taking the month of December off from writing. So though it’s still early for holiday presents, I leave you with a present that asks another question.
See you next year. What ever your location, faith or situation be, may the grace of goodness accompany each of us on our trail and bring us back together in the new year. Travel well.
Banner Coastal Redwood Forest by Eric E Photography is used with permission.
READ MORE ABOUT IT: FATAL SHOOTINGS BY CHICAGO POLICE: TOPS AMONG BIGGEST U.S. CITIES By: Andrew Schroedter: http://www.bettergov.org/news/fatal-shootings-by-chicago-police-tops-among-biggest-us-cities; Chicago Releases ‘Chilling’ Video Of Cop Shooting Teen 16 Times. The Cook County state’s attorney said the officer “was on the scene less than 30 seconds” before opening fire on Laquan McDonald, 17 byKim Bellware of the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/laquan-mcdonald-video_5654e329e4b079b281897fc2; Tyshawn Lee – by Steve Schmadeke, Jeremy Gorner and Rosemary Regina SobolContact Reporters for the Chicago Tribune:: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-tyshawn-lee-killing-arrest-chicago-20151127-story.html; Colarado Springs: http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/police-active-shooter-colorado-planned-parenthood-clinic-35449605; Wakes: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wake_(ceremony); Safety Coffins: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Safety_coffin; Non-Violence: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nonviolence
PICS: No Wake and water taxi photos by dan4kent – Clark Street bridge – Chicago, Illinois (USA); Tyshawn Lee (151105170939-tyshawn-lee-large-169 from CNN) http://www.cnn.com/2015/11/27/us/chicago-tyshawn-lee-arrest/; Chrristmas Present Graphic: http://www.mcdanielmusiccamp.com/archives/999/christmas-presents/
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