Don't Look Behind Anymore, Move Forward
I was driving tonight to pick up my kids from my parents and my brother-in-law's song came on, Ne Regarde Plus Derreire. The title literally translates to no longer look behind. And the next lyric says to move forward. It's one of my favorite songs of his and always has been. But as I was driving up 95 and this song came on I noticed an Amtrak train passing by on my left and was immediately reminded of the plans I had mid-March to go visit a friend in DC that were canceled because of COVID. And as I looked in my rear view mirror towards the city I could see police lights in the distance and remembered how surreal it was just four weeks ago seeing police blocking all entrances to 676, the crossway through the city, knowing that curfew was setting in and the National Guard would arrive just a day later.
As much as many of us long for a return to "normal" that normal isn't coming for so many reasons. COVID has created loss and absence in so many ways. People lost, freedoms lost, access and opportunity lost. We will move forward, but we have to do so in a way that prevents us from looking back to what was. What was will never be again. That is a loss and it deserves time and grief and sadness, but there is also hope in what we have learned. How we have learned to slow down, to adapt, to constrict our circles and identify the things that really matter in our life.
Compounding the COVID strains are the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd and the subsequent national uprising against racial injustice and police brutality. There have been uprisings before. I've seen them in my life. Most memorable to me are the LA civil unrest in 1992 and the protests after Michael Brown was murdered in Ferguson. But today's protests feel different. We have, to date, had four weeks straight of daily, large, interrracial, multi-gender, multi-generational crowds of people demanding change.
Last night I participated in my last board meeting of a nonprofit that I've been working with for six years. The organization asked us in preparation for the meeting to think about where we've drawn strength from in the last 12-ish weeks. As I listened to the mostly white board reference their families and their children over and over again I grew increasingly emotional. These are all people that I know well and think highly of, but they are also folks that have no concept of what the last so many weeks have felt like for me and my family.
So when it came my turn to share I couldn't hold back my emotion. I said of course my family had been a source of strength for me, but also a deep connection to my anger, sadness, stress and frustration. In an attempt at explaining to my five year old son what had happened to George Floyd in terms he could understand, I said that some police officers do bad things to people because of how they look and what they think of them. He asked me if sometimes police officers shoot people they shouldn't. I answered honestly yes, but that was not what had happened to George Floyd. He then asked me, "Mommy are the police going to shoot me?" That was not a question I was prepared to hear, nor answer. My five year old. Asked if the police would shoot him. Because George Floyd is brown. And his daddy is brown. And he comes from his daddy.
I didn't share that story. It didn't feel like it made sense to go into that detail. But I did say that my five year old was asking questions well beyond his age. And I said that I found strength in the protests. The opportunity to march with thousands of other people who were standing in solidarity with me and my family. Either because this is their lived experience too or because they see that it shouldn't be anyone's lived experience and they want to see change. I also said I found strength in my relationship with a fellow board member who is a police officer in Philadelphia. While he and I do not agree on everything, we have deep, meaningful conversations about issues that impact communities and I draw immense comfort in knowing there are people like him fighting from the inside.
Life will never go back to how it was before my five year old asked me if the police were going to shoot him some day. Life will never go back to how it was before a deadly virus brought the city that never sleeps to its knees and showed us how fragile we truly are. How could it possibly? But for anyone who watched or heard of the murder of George Floyd how can you look back on that and wish for things to go back to normal? For anyone who watched how poorly we were prepared for this pandemic how can you look back and wish we return to the status quo?
My brother-in-law's song goes on to say:
Je bossais dur comme un fou (I've been working like a crazy man)
J'attendais le jour ou je serai la devant vous (I've been waiting for the day to be here before you)
Pour vous dire: "Vous pensez qu'on est sorti du trou?" (To tell you, "Do you really think we've worked our way out of this hole?")
Le chemin est encore tres longs (The road is long)
Sois fort sache que la vie (Be strong and know in life)
Meme si tout te parait sombre (Even if everything seems dark)
Fonces! (You must go forward)
Ne regarde plus derriere (Don't look back anymore)
Vas de l'avant (Move forward)
We must take all that we have gained and all that we have lost in this incredibly unpredictable year and keep moving forward together, as uncertain as the path forward seems. There is strength in our solidarity, in our humanity, and in our hope.