I clicked around all the news sites like everyone else, mainling terrible information as if each headline, each image, each update were the liquid in my junky needle.
I had no words.
I had no rational thoughts.
I had no patience or tolerance for politics.
I had zero fucks to give about religious, cultural, economic, or philosophical frameworks meant to provide distance, clarity, and theories that somehow blunted the raw trauma of loss.
Nope. Tapped out. Where’s Doc Brown and Marty with their Delorean? I have a few hundred historical errands I need them to run to course correct that last millennia or so.
I checked in with a friend equally flummoxed and cored out by all of it. We agreed that music was one of the only things that made sense and provided some kind of compass out of this tempest. I punched up my iTunes and the Ballad of John and Yoko spilled out
Drove from Paris to the Amsterdam Hilton
Talking in our beds for a week
The newspapers said
Say what’re you doing in bed
I said we’re only trying to get us some peace
You and the rest of the world, John. Sorry if it seems we haven’t learned much since you wrote this, I say to the pixels that remain of his art, since you left us. We’re trying, John, really. But I’m not sure if I believe it.
Tumbled together with all the other bad news was an item about a rally Sunday afternoon on the Boston Common. There was not much information other than the time and location. A Harvard PhD student was behind the organizing, the article stated, but that was really all. Usually the lack of information would have made me nervous, was this even a real thing? What if it was so disorganized that it turned ugly somehow? Wariness felt a little too natural, but something about the simplicity and sparseness appealed to me and I decided to go.
As I was gathering up a few things to toss into a tote bag, I passed by a little American flag sticking out of the cup holder in the kitchen where pens and coupons go to die. The flag was one of those cheap decorative ones that are everywhere in the summer. I had gotten it at the grocery store. They were handing them out on Veteran’s Day. Impulsively I plucked it out of the holder and rummaged around for a sharpie. I sent up a few apologies as I went to work, but figured vets and founding fathers and mothers and other great patriots would forgive me in light of recent events.
When I arrived at the bandstand, the designated rally rendezvous point, there were only a handful of people milling around. The stand is built like a tall gazebo or rotunda with lovely ionic pillars and wrought iron railings. A news van pulled up. Then another. Several police offers kept a respectful, but present distance. It was impossible to tell who, if anyone, was in charge. I thought about the great rallies that I had read about—civil rights marches on Washington, suffrage rallies at the turn of the century, more recent gatherings around racial violence—with their raw energy crackling the way the air does before a lightening strike. Here there was none of that. People pressed quietly closer to the bandstand, their hands pursed around cups of coffee, talking softly or simply standing still. People had brought handmade signs proclaiming their love for France, messages of peace and hope. Several carried large French flags. One young college student wove through the crowd with a large French flag draped around his neck like a superhero’s cape.
A group of people seemed to appear from the side of the bandstand. They filed up onto the dias. One of them secured a French flag over the short railing and another lit three squat candles placed on the edge below. There was no PA system, no microphones, nothing to announce the event other than the several hundred people who gathered. An audible rise in conversation snaked through the crowd as the audience recognized the governor, the mayor, and one of our well-known senators flanking a short, wiry man in a beige suit.
The man did not introduce himself, but rather simply began speaking in a clipped French accent. He acknowledged the terrible tragedies and thanked the city of Boston and its people for their support. He recognized the politicians standing around him and those not present for working for safety and peace for all. He convened a moment of silence and when that was over he bid a curt “merci” and with that the big men in sweeping black coats led the group off the back of the bandstand out of sight. To my left a man with a hearty baritone voice began to sing the French national anthem, “La Marseillaise.” Those who knew the French raised their voices while the rest of us hummed and nodded in solidarity.
And just like that, we dispersed. We were released back to the day, back to the news and the uncertainty. Life, you may now resume speed. And it would, but could we?
I don’t know what was supposed to happen, but I know what did happen. For a few moments we came together to look each other in the face and recognize our collective and individual humanity. We convened to hold space for each other and for strangers or friends/loved ones half way around the world without fuss or fanfare, which seemed to be the only other thing that made sense to me. We brought our own energies in service to something bigger than ourselves and we offered them up, simultaneously and selflessly.
This is what church must feel like to some, whatever you identify as church, as the sacred place for many to congregate. It’s gathering with intention, and it doesn’t move the world, but it does move you, and over time that becomes the same thing.