We are finishing up week 12 in the pandemic life. Our family is heading out tomorrow for vacation to St. Augustine. We’ve rented a condo on the beach. We like St. Augustine because it’s not as crowded as other beaches.
Blair and our two girls were dropping off our dog at my brother-in-law’s home. I went for a run and took the longer route where Monroe and Piedmont Park come together at the Beltline. I was about to take a left to make the triangle to Virginia-Highlands. Along the way, however, I heard helicopters. I knew why they were there. Atlanta is under a 9 o’clock curfew. And I knew that Piedmont Park tends to be the gathering space for marches in the midtown area over the killing of George Floyd. I wanted to see what was going on.
Sure enough, there were national guard soldiers lined up along the street standing next to their jeeps. These soldiers were young and I could see my college-age self in them. I saw one group of protesters with their “F—Trump” sign and others that said, “Latinos for Black Lives Matter.” There was a car with “I can’t breathe” written in white shoe polish on the windows.
I was on a run and without a phone or else I would have recorded the sight. Obviously, we’re in a tumultuous time. I was trying to get a good run in before the vacation so I could sweat out the business of the day and take a shower when I got home. But the helicopter was a jarring sound. I know I need vacation. Trying to produce sermons and worship virtually each week for the last 3 months has been taxing on the spirit. I love it, but it’s time for a change of scenery. And yet, I couldn’t help but think about the contrast of my need for vacation and the deep hurts of the people in our country.
I live in a community of mostly white residents. It’s a beautiful place and the people are friendly, but I am no doubt sheltered from the hurts of the black community these days. In some ways I always have been. Although, growing up in Jackson, Georgia I shared the days with many more black friends than today. School and sports helped bring us together and I’m forever grateful for those experiences. But still, I live only a couple of miles away from one of the hubs of this movement happening in our country. And I live only a couple of miles away from the MLK center where one man’s life and witness changed the entire world.
I don’t know what to do with this flood of emotions. I’m not sure if it’s guilt, or whether my heart was punctured and felt the hurt of the black community and the rise of something new. After asking two young women about any upcoming rallies, they simply said, “You just missed it. They headed out 20 minutes ago, but you can still catch up with them.”
Blair and the girls would be home soon and it was time to pack for vacation so I told these young ladies I would try to catch the next one. I walked and jogged and walked and jogged up Virginia Avenue to Highlands and made my way home. The march is probably over anyway and the curfew is about to go into effect. As I walk in the front door, I still hear the helicopter hover above and see my children return in their innocence, excited about the beach. I suddenly feel heart my jump back into gear and throb with the thoughts of sand and water.