Sometimes we gut react to a situation, impulsively decide to take a risk, to speak out, take a stand. I think of my quiet, introverted, shy husband who decided after 9/11 that declaring war on Iraq was not the appropriate way to respond to those horrendous events. Crippled with rheumatoid arthritis, in constant pain, he stood or sat, Friday after Friday, year after year, holding up his signs “honk for peace” and “War is not the Answer.” When anyone challenged him, he’d say, “I’m not doing this to change your mind. I do this to be true to what I believe is right and good.”
Did his silent protest change anything? Who knows, but I do know he convinced several others to join him in his silent vigils. I was with him when folks stopped and talked to him, gave him the finger, or cussed him out. After George Floyd was killed, my quiet spouse challenged us to do a weekly “Geriatrics For Justice” vigil in front of our little church. There was the black man who stopped and thanked us. There was the KKK leader who argued with us, even threatened to come back and shoot us. There were several who stopped their cars and joined us. There were those who shouted obscenities as they drove by.
This winter, someone sent a contribution to our church asking us to use his check to help a man whose business had burned down. When asked why he sent the money to our church instead of GoFundMe, he said he remembered the way we stood in front of the church insisting that black lives matter and trusted we’d make sure the fire victims got what they needed.
The older I get, the more I am convinced that even though our individual choices and actions seem to fade into obscurity, they still matter. Who knows when a memory of a past event triggers someone to defend a stranger, give up their place in line, speak out against an injustice? I recently received an email from one of my neighbors. She is a lovely caring person, and I value her friendship, so I’m tempted to ignore her email. Yet, I feel compelled to respond. I don’t want her to think I support Trump and his Jan 6 lies and conspiracies. Perhaps something in the vein of “please don’t forward things like that to me. I value your friendship too much to lose it by talking politics” would be appropriate. That approach has so far worked with another friend. When he gets going on a rant, I hold up my hand and say, “ Let’s just agree to disagree and talk about something else. “ At first, he resisted, but now he just grins and shuts up. It’s reassuring to know we can violently disagree on some things and still get along.