No one showed up for my senior citizens’ writing class today. Like every Thursday since May, it was to take place at 11 a.m. on Zoom.
But today wasn’t like those other Thursdays. It was the day of Congressman John Lewis’ funeral. I was amused when I realized the start time of the send-off to that great man – 11 a.m. ET.
Why amused? Because this was the writing prompt I had given my senior students for today:
Rosa Parks inspired me to find a way to get in the way, to get in trouble … good trouble, necessary trouble. –John Lewis
Instead of hearing what my students had written on that topic, it was only me and the director of the seniors’ program on Zoom at class time. We chatted for a bit, wondering if someone might come along late. I speculated to her that our lack of attendance was because they wanted to watch Lewis’ funeral. She shared some of her own activism from the 1960s – “you’d just go limp so they’d have to drag you away” – which I found fascinating.
By 11:15 I told her I’d be happy to keep Zoom live in case someone came late. So that’s what I did. Then, with Zoom open on my computer screen, I went to my couch and turned on my television to catch the live coverage of the funeral.
As I watched former Presidents Bush and Clinton speak, and then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and others, I realized how happy I was that no one had showed up for my class. Because, dammit, it was the first time in a long while that I was bursting with pride to be an American.
My God, it felt good.
Speeches grounded in history. Reminiscences of a man who laid down his body for his principles and then devoted his life to them. Sweet memories. Even a glimpse into a man beloved in his workplace for his kindness and consistent advocacy of family and purpose.
And then, soaring oratory by former President Barack Obama. I didn’t know I needed what he was offering, but my mind and body soaked it in like a bone-dry sponge finally getting its drink. When the man whose life is being honored is one who fought for voting rights and peaceful assembly, a crossover into talking about the current political climate at his funeral isn’t just appropriate but mandated. With the rights Lewis fought for still being challenged in 2020, Obama called for reinvigorating the Voting Rights Act and renaming it after the esteemed Congressman.
With all of the reading I’ve done and the discussions I’ve participated in on the subject of race since the death of George Floyd, it was in a moment like this that I could feel my own lens had shifted. Much like Presidents Bush and Clinton, as a white person I have gratitude for John Lewis making my country better and persistently seeing its potential. But unlike President Obama, I wasn’t a direct beneficiary of his courageous acts. I could only bear witness and consider it a privilege to have done so.
Today was about respect and honor for our country, with all its flaws, past and present. It was about acknowledgement of what used to be before our nation was taken over by an administration that doesn’t strive to build on our hard-fought, principled advances, but rather endeavors to squash them or even blow them up.
So, thank you, President Obama, for a call to action. Peaceful protests should not end in state violence. The Voting Rights Act should not be diminished. Let’s stop chipping away at the hard work of those who came before us.
Next week, I look forward to hearing from my senior citizen students what good trouble means to them.
Maybe it’s time we all got into some.