Journal of the Plague Year 2020: What Will Finally Be Enough?

I was talking to my sister just now — having the call where we share the week’s frustrations and joys, and where we give and receive real spiritual solace. I love her dearly, and rely on her kindness and wisdom. More than anything, I value the fact that we disagree sharply about politics, but we’re able to stay connected. In an way, we’re each other’s spy in the enemy camp.

It’s hard now. We both feel real anguish and fear, but for very different reasons. She reminded me that when she was in grad school, she lived in the section of Minneapolis where the riots started. She described seeing footage of the riots, and said, “I couldn’t recognize anything — it was just fires at night.” She said, “The people who are rioting — I don’t think they care about the guy who was killed. I think they just want to make trouble.”

I asked her if she’d ever been part of a protest that spiraled out of control. She said no, and asked what it’s like. I said, “I don’t have a huge depth of experience — it was a different time and a different cause. But there’s a crowd, and a lot of pain and anger. Once things start to burn, maybe a lot of other people join in. I can’t say. But when the fire starts, it’s out of grief and rage and despair, and the sense that no one cares if you die.”

She asked, “What will it take to satisfy them? What do they want? Charges were brought very quickly.”

It was odd to be asked. After all, I spent the early spring fuming because my beloved Mayor Pete kept getting grilled about racial justice, and he’d responded with grace and wisdom. He’d done well with Charlemagne Tha God, and had given some thoughtful podcast interviews. But in the end, African-American voters lined up behind a man whom I hold in contempt, who publicly humiliated a Black woman to help Clarence Thomas to a position on the Supreme Court. So, damned if I know.

The question itself is interesting, though, because it implies that white people been giving all along. There’s a sense that the protestors are ungrateful and demanding. Four police officers were fired, and two have been charged with crimes. Isn’t that enough?

So I repeated the usual caveats about, look, I’m struggling with this, too. I can’t speak for other people. I said, “I think when the system keeps failing you, it’s hard to trust that justice will be done. And this isn’t one incident. It’s decades of injustice and suffering. I keep thinking what AIDS was like. To know that people were dying, and that no one cared. To hear them being vilified and attacked and blamed, and to have President Reagan dismiss them and sneer at them — I can’t even describe what that was like. You have to believe that you’re part of the community and part of the country, and that your death matters.”

She said it was sad that big cities were hit so hard by the virus, and now there were riots. She said she was scared when she lived in Minneapolis — that it felt like you could take a wrong turn and end up somewhere really dangerous.

I hate to dismiss this kind of fear. White women’s fears are often mocked and treated as a form of entitlement. And yet, most women limit their lives dramatically, in tragic ways, because they’re afraid of rape and violence. That fear seems silly, until you’re one of those bold female travelers who disappears. I haven’t let fear rule me, but I bear the scars. I can’t say that everyone should live as I’ve lived.

I felt at home in San Francisco. Parts of Tucson may not be “safe,” but it’s my home in a deep and visceral manner that cannot be undone. After a moment I said, “I think it’s different for me. I was afraid every moment I lived in the South. I think it has to do with being queer — I feel safer in the city.”

That difference is hard for both of us to admit, and to understand.

I feel her love. She’s taught me a lot about acceptance and understanding and compassion. We keep returning to each other, with genuine curiosity and hope.

We are one people, one country. I don’t know what will be enough, but I do know that we want the same things: Love and belonging and compassion.


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