On the morning before the 4th of July, H and I planned a long day of bike riding. We loaded our bags with water and workout clothes and swimsuits and snacks, and headed out before the sun got too hot. We rode the trails and we talked about things I don’t remember now. We rode our bikes halfway across town.
We were far from home, riding past the water park, and watching a mom take pictures of her two small girls as they giggled and skipped and ran through streams of water leaping upward from tiny holes in the ground beneath their feet. I could hear the water as it burst through the ground, making a noise that sounded like my sprinkler at home: pfffftt. The further away we rode from that water park, the louder the sound became, until I realized it wasn’t the water I was hearing at all.
Ahead of me, H’s back tire was quickly releasing every last bit of air until the tire rode itself flat. Just like that. We stopped our bikes, dismounted, and H bent down to inspect the damage. The sun was turning up the heat, and so we weighed our options. Our son is visiting, and we thought about giving him a call, asking him to come pick us up in the car, but decided instead that I’d ride home, get the car, and come back to pick up H while he waited on a bench near the trail.
I made it home fairly quickly, and when I arrived, our son was heading out the door. “Hey,” I said.
“Hey,” he answered. “What’s going on?” So I told him.
“Wanna come with me to pick up your dad?”
“Sure,” he said. “I’ll go.”
In the end, it all worked out, and the three of us — H, Jordan, and I — spent the whole day together. H has another bike which he swapped out for the one with the flat tire, and the three of us finished that day-long bike ride. We ended up at the gym, with H and me in the pool, and Jordan playing a game of basketball with some guys on the court.
The next day, H said, “You know, I thought yesterday was going to be a bust. When my bike tire went flat, I thought the whole day was ruined. But, if my tire hadn’t gone flat, we wouldn’t have met up with Jordan and the day wouldn’t have been anywhere near as fun as it turned out to be.”
I had to agree. The day had been pretty awesome. We’d ridden the trail with no hands, arms slicing the humid air in waves as we held them out from our sides and moved our wrists up and down. I’d ridden up next to Jordan and reached out my hand, and he’d taken hold, the two of us riding hand-in-hand for a while. H and I had floated together in silence in the deep end of the pool, our arms and legs brushing against each other, or wrapping together for just a second, before separating again in the cool water. We’d ridden under a canopy of leaves and watched the sunlight dance on the trail below our tires.
Better after the flattened tire.
I’m not surprised by the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial. But I’m not gonna lie. It stings. Say what you will about burden of proof and all that. I get it. I do. But still. It stings. When I watched the reading of the verdict, I felt like that back tire on H’s bike. Pfffftt.
As a black woman in America, my perspective on these things is colored by my experience. Like Rachel Jeantel, my context is the lens through which I view a situation like this; a situation in which a young black man is said to have been armed with the sidewalk.
Statements like those leave me shaking my head. I recognize the not guilty verdict is one thing. The message it sends is something else, altogether. It’s a symptom of something much deeper. As one of my pastors used to say: Church, we still have work to do.
When I found my voice, sitting on that couch, I said, “What do we do? What are we supposed to do? It’s such a big problem. How do we change it? Where do we start? Where does one person begin?”
H looked at me as he searched for words. This story is just too much for him to process these days. We stared at each other, the reality that we could choose our response from the selection of choices swimming together over our heads. And that’s when our son spoke up. “I know what you can do,” he said.
H and I both turned to look at him. “What?” I asked, turning to look at Jordan — a young black man in America — and I silently prayed prayers of protection in his direction.
Jordan stood up and said, “Keep writing. That’s what you can do. Keep writing.”
Long before Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman met each other, I had a dream stirring in my heart. It’s one of those God-sized dreams, where I see the big picture, but can’t make out the details. It’s a dream to invite church leaders to the table, to talk about race, the way we’ve been doing it here on this blog, in the “Going There” posts. When I look back on things, I realize the dream probably was planted way back when I was tiny and my parents starting taking me to an all white church in New Jersey.
If you know me, you know I’m always asking, “Of all the institutions, clubs, and organizations in America, you’d think the Christian church would be the one place we could figure out how to get along with each other…different races and cultures, worshiping God together.” I’ve been asking that question for as long as I can remember. And here we are, fifty years after Martin Luther King, Jr. observed Sunday morning at 11:00 to be the most segregated hour in America, and we still find most of our churches divided along racial lines.
Church, we still have work to do.
I’m going to keep writing, because I think my son is correct. I think writing is the thing I can do that will make a difference. I’m also going to follow this dream I have in my heart. What about you? If you’re not so sure, I get that. You’ve got to do the thing God gives you to do. But you can’t do nothing. Please don’t do nothing. Praying is something. But pray with the knowledge that God usually works first on the one doing the praying.
Today, we’re on the other side of the verdict; just like the day I spent riding with H and Jordan, after the bike tire went flat, I think we can be better after.
If you’re feeling a bit flat, or are simply interested in thinking more about what all of this means, I encourage you to read these articles at Christianity Today:
Note: I edited this post, after watching this video. We are not Trayvon Martin.