Windows and Mirrors - After John Lewis - Florence Sprague - September 2020

"For things to reveal themselves to us, we need to be ready to abandon our views about them."—Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist monk, poet, peace activist

After the death of John Lewis earlier this summer it felt important to write about his life and work, but everything I penned felt trite or repetitive. My words paled when compared to the eloquent words from those who knew him personally and eulogized him so powerfully at his memorial service. He worked tirelessly all of his life for civil rights growing from a young man who wanted change NOW and was willing to put his very life on the line to challenge bigoted laws, to a revered elder statesman still working with tenacity to keep the unmet goals in the public eye and on the agenda. May he rest in peace at last.

So many have asked why the killing of George Floyd triggered such a huge response when it was just the latest of too, too many. Perhaps COVID-19 upended everyone’s world so completely that it forced us all to abandon old ways and made people ready for other things to be revealed, too. With fresh eyes injustice became starkly visible.

We’ve talked about “but” before, how it is not enough to give the appearance of acknowledging a problem if your “yes, I see” is immediately followed by “but,” letting you off the hook. Now letting go of “but” can feel unavoidable. One cannot avoid seeing and feeling changes, different ways of doing things. When they feel uncomfortable, examine that discomfort.

This summer I read about a young woman in Minneapolis who wants to preserve the protest artwork. These paintings and drawings are often on the plywood covering windows, broken or protected. She said that she wanted it preserved but NOT in a museum, meaning not in the MIA or the Walker or the Minnesota History Center, or other conventional space long dominated by white perspectives. My first reaction—but those spaces are meant for this! Second thought—Are they? The MIA had a moving, small exhibit of Philando Castile art, but this idea is much bigger than that. Now the push is to put/keep the art in its BIPOC community as a resource, a reminder, a release valve, and a galvanizing image.

Let “but” be not an end, but a beginning of an exploration of why one is drawing away from an idea. Is it just a reluctance to change? Is it because one doesn’t understand why? Is it because one doesn’t understand how? Is it loss of control? Or fear? “But” is too often a barrier; let it become a gateway. What exactly am I feeling? Why am I feeling this way? How do the status quo and the proposed change affect me and others? Who gains and who loses from change? Is the perceived loss really a loss, or is it actually a gain?

Keep making good trouble and, while I don’t know who first said this, remember that the direction in which one looks will determine what one sees.