When my youngest niece was born, I spent a good twenty four consecutive hours in the hospital with my sister. I’d just gotten a sun burn and I’d neglected to bring any snacks. But it was a remarkable experience nonetheless.
When I final left those fluorescent-lit hallways and found myself blinking in the brightness of the world, it seemed remarkable to me just how ordinary everything seemed.
Something miraculous had happened, but the world kept spinning.
I found a similar sensation a few years later when my father passed away. I got caught in traffic at 8:30am on a Monday and I couldn’t figure out where everyone was going. It seemed strange to think of people going to work. It seem strange to see people engaged in every day activities. It seem strange to see the rest of the world acting as if nothing had happened.
Something devastating had happened, but the world kept spinning.
These are a few of my private moments of disorientation, but this feeling happens collectively as well.
I remember the highs of Red Sox victories – knowing smiles and cheers passing between strangers on the street. I remember the shared anxiety and trepidation in the week following the Boston Marathon bombing.
In days of disappointing Patriots losses or of collective bemoaning of snow, my geographic community feels united, as if the whole world is focused on what we know. But contact with the outside world reveals just how isolated that collective feeling is. Somehow, despite what feels so pressing to us, everyone else in the world is just carrying on.
Something happened, but the world kept spinning.
While many things have been difficult to process about what’s going on in Ferguson and around the country, this feeling of disjointedness and disorientation has really struck me the last few days.
I turn on the news and – as much as I know exactly what to expect – I almost find it hard to believe there’s anything besides issues of race or justice being covered.
Thanksgiving feels strangely hollow, Christmas shopping especially trivial, in the face the deep racial injustice we face in this country. There is so much work to be done. How is anyone thinking of anything else?
My Facebook news feed is heavily slanted towards people who are out on the streets protesting, who are organizing vigils, walkouts, and teach-ins. I understand from their posts that this isn’t the norm, but it’s almost enough to let me breath a sigh of relief.
Someone else has got that covered, I almost want to say. Someone else is doing something. And while I care – of course I care – I also have things to do, other priorities, other concerns. And no one really cares what I think, anyway.
Someone else has got that covered, so I’ll just crawl back towards a sense of normalcy and hope for the best. What can I really do, anyway?
And then I see a comment not about Ferguson, not about racial justice, or not questioning the systems of privilege and oppression we’ve artfully constructed in this country. And as much as a part of me may want to move on in my life, I find myself baffled that others have moved on so quickly.
Something has happened, I want to exclaim. How can the world keep spinning?
Of course, that’s what makes a system of privilege so insidious. That is what makes the injustice so cunning –
I am white. I have the privilege to just walk away. I have the privilege to think that what happened to a black man in Ferguson, in Miami, in Cleveland, in Oakland, in too many cities – I have the privilege to think what happened to them has nothing to do with me.
It’s almost easier to walk away.
After all, if the world keeps spinning, I might as well be on it. I almost certainly can’t make a difference, I almost certainly can’t bring about any change. I have no expertise in law or law enforcement or even, really, in social justice. I’m just an average person with things I would change, but no idea how I’d fix them.
I have so little to offer, and it is so, so easy to just sigh and walk away.
But I can’t.
I just can’t. And neither should you.
There is so much work to be done. So much. None of us know all the answers. None of us can figure it all out. None of us can make it all right. We need to work together – and we need to all work – to find solutions to these complex problems.
We should all be in shock. We should all be in awe. We should all be terrified and hopeful about what the future may hold.
There is important work to be done, and no one gets to sit this one out. After all, the world keeps spinning.