Mornings are when I am at my best. Nobody wants anything from me. The traffic sounds, if any, are few and sporadic. Covid leaves me with no formal church service to attend, so I have no plans on Sundays. I take my jogs as early as possible.
Yesterday I started my run at four a.m. I was still trying to reconcile all the racism and protesting that have been in our thoughts over the last few weeks. Saturday night, I figured something out.
Ever since George Floyd, I have been comparing the events to the ‘60’s. Dr. King, civil rights, marching; I thought I could find some answers and reference points there. Instead, I realized that I was in the wrong century. It was the 1860’s that clicked with me. I found myself seeing much of today in the Gettysburg Address. Specifically:
“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
-Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863
When we take up arms against each other, we lose. When we rush to act against people, it haunts us in the long run.
It was with these thoughts racing in my mind that I got ready to run. I pulled on two pairs of socks, strapped on my knee braces, found a clean(-ish) jogging shirt, and made my way to the trail.
Unbeknownst to me, the route had been changed. Gettysburg has its sacred ground. Now the Burke Gilman Trail had its walking prayer vigil.
It seemed to be akin to the Stations of the Cross practice. You take in each sight, ponder what it took for each event to occur, what the cost was, and braced yourself for the next one.
There is no great difference between tombstones and these markers. Both are meant to remember those that have come before. And for both battles, it feels like both commemorate senseless deaths.
I noted where the signs were. I ran past the end of them, sorted out my thoughts, and finished my run. The jog had been suitably dark. The sun was not yet up and the rain drizzled on me for the entire time. I went home, grabbed a dry shirt and jacket, and retrieved my camera.
I returned to the site, determined to take in all of it. The rain had stopped, but the clouds remained. The grayness was appropriate. I set out to walk the path back and forth until I had taken in all the signs.
The display was created by a local Christian group. Its contemplative nature felt quite Quakerly to me. It served as my church time for the week. Stroll the path, take in the names, and receive what was being said.
I kept hoping that each sign would be the last. Admittedly, part of that was that my legs were tired. However there was also the hope that there could only be so many names. The mistreatment had to stop eventually, right? But no. Up ahead was another sign. Followed by another. There was no shortage of those that had died. There were plenty of names to fill a five mile walk.
The nature and flowers were a nice touch. Normally, I do not pick flowers. One should not take away from a carefully manicured park experience. Yesterday I made an exception. I plucked a tiny purple flower off of a bush and carried it a few miles to one of George Floyd’s signs.
My favorite part was the tunnel. Freddie Gray and Sandra Bland have last names that draw a raised eyebrow when surrounded by so many vibrant and extraordinary colors. It was fitting.
I started around five a.m. I wanted to take it all in before the weekenders came out. Somehow I experienced an uncanny absence of people. Over a two hour walk, I saw less than a dozen people. It was as if the time had been specifically prepared for me to contemplate and consider. I was thankful for the small miracle of a world still asleep.
There was a second reason why I went back so soon. I wanted to walk while the signs were all still there. One had already been knocked down. I could excuse it by wind. It was by a driveway, so perhaps a car knocked it over on the way home in the late night. That is what I desire to believe.
However, on Thursday my black coworker had the n-word scrawled on his car. In the year two thousand twenty, this bigotry is still happening. If people will do that sort of unspeakable thing, destroying those signs would be an afterthought.
As I strolled and observed, I took in all the signs. I thought about the state of things. I paid my respects. It was no speech. It was no march. It was just me and those that were treated unkindly, coming together in nature.
We could do with a few less battlefields. It has been said that we have a God of the mourning. That God’s mercies are renewed every morning. If we could stop warring with each other, stop taking up arms against those that anger us; then there would be much less mourning in our mornings.