A few Wednesdays ago, joy came out of nowhere and surprised me. I was at an outdoor yoga class with my friend. It was just after sunrise. I hadn’t yet heard about George Floyd. Our mats lay on a grassy space above still, sleepy vineyards. We began to move. I lifted my arms, reaching up as far as I could, all the way to my fingertips. A row of young olive trees behind us also stretched toward the brilliant blue sky. A pair of long-necked geese honked “Good morning!” over our heads as they crossed high above the rows of grape vines. I looked upward and watched in contented silence as they continued their flight past the husky golden rays of the newborn sun.
Twice I nearly burst out laughing, the bubbles of happiness rising inside of me. My hopeful heart ached to dance and play with nature. The sun comforted me with its gentle warmth. I breathed in deeply then pushed all the air out as hard as I could. Whoosh! I felt the frustration of the last three months leave my lungs. With each inhale and exhale, my blood awakened in my veins as it traveled from head to toe. The glorious simplicity of the rhythm of life amazed me in that moment.
On that morning, I had a hard time staying within the speed limit while driving home from class. The joy in my heart was inspiring, and I hoped to write about it before starting the work day so I could share it with you. Maybe I could try to rebuild the scene so that you might be able to experience the joy, too. My favorite snuggly chair was waiting for me, so I sat and placed my Chromebook on my lap. I decided to check the news first.
Honestly, I rarely check the news. Mostly because I don’t like biased news sources that I feel have hidden—or not so hidden—agendas. Whether it’s the left or the right, they blatantly air their opinions and persuasions. No matter what my political party is, I want news without interjection. But the world cannot be ignored. So it was two days late on that Wednesday morning that I learned about George Floyd, and saw his horrific death on the screen before me. In a heartbeat, all of my giddiness left. As it should. I still can’t get the image out of my mind.
When it was time for yoga a few days later, I was still troubled as I drove up the hill.
“I’m sad today…I was up all night…” I texted my friend before I left the house to meet her for our class. “Just wanted to give you a heads up if I’m quieter than usual. Feeling reflective and prayerful this morning.” I knew she’d understand. When I arrived, the sun wasn’t shining. All around us was a distant, gray fog. The birdsong was oddly quiet, muffled, and it was unusually cold for late May. As if the earth knew and mourned with us.
I lay my forehead on my yoga mat and began the deep slow breaths, thinking of George Floyd who could breathe no more. I didn’t know the circumstances, but it just didn’t seem right. The whole scene flashed again in my mind of that man’s knee on his neck. The officer’s intentional, slow movements… Closing my eyes, a quiet guttural sound escaped from my throat as I grieved the life of a stranger that was so casually taken away. Over what? It didn’t look at all like self-defense. It certainly didn’t look like a humane way to detain someone. I was filled with indignation.
The majority of police officers in our country surely would not condone what happened to George Floyd, and I’ve seen responses to confirm that. The officers I know stood ready to protect my students on our campus several years ago while an armed criminal hid in the nearby neighborhood. What would’ve happened if they weren’t there to call? I thought of the police officers over in Gilroy last summer who ran toward a shooter while the patrons of the Garlic Festival fled from the bullets. How much more death would there have been had those officers not been there to risk their lives for the people?
My own heart, it still aches now. For all of it. For everyone. Cities destroyed, people hurt and killed. Obviously, we need to work toward a solution to this too-old problem and at the same time realize that it will take time. But it shouldn’t take so much time!
The time that has passed between now and that Wednesday has been…I don’t even have the words to explain well enough all that has been on my mind. I have failed in coming here to this space because my thoughts have been such a whirlwind. A dozen blog post drafts have been started and abandoned in the last two weeks or so. I’ve been trying to put off my own thoughts for awhile, and instead listen and learn.
The roller coaster of emotion has been at full speed. Sadness one day, anger the next. Confusion. Love. Resolve. Love. Heartbreak. Love. It all keeps coming back to love. I want the world to know more of it. I want the world to feel all of the love from anyone who is willing to give it. I know it is out there. It just needs to be found and cultivated…nurtured. In some cases, it needs to be taught, the love. It’s not a naive thing, love. It’s a powerful thing.
Love is not just holding hands and singing songs. Love is action, and it can be in many forms. Love is being respectful to all people. Love is educating ourselves and celebrating our cultural differences. Love is registering to vote in the country you live in so that you can be part of change for the better. Love is teaching your children that no one race is better than the other. Love is listening. Love is giving a consequence for crimes against humanity. Love is peacefully protesting what is unjust. Love is casting aside fear to stand up for what is right. Love is creating something healing for those who are hurting. She’s a tough one, love is. Love requires forward motion, courage, and hope—not destruction and chaos.
We need connection. With everyone. To continue walking in love and learning each other’s hearts. To be brave and reach out. To listen and acknowledge. To maintain our integrity, not bypass justice, and lift up respect. To communicate and follow what is right. But most of all, to love one another as we were meant to do…in whatever way we each feel called to show it. I believe that Martin Luther King, Jr. meant what he said in the video below, that “hate destroys the hater as well as the hated.” Love is no small thing. It’s a powerful thing. And we have that power within us.