Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Saw MLK and the earth shook...

We're okay. That's what is most important right now. When the earthquake hit Mineral, Virginia, we were some 130 miles north in D.C. visiting the newly unveiled Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. As we walked across the bridge away from the Washington Monument toward the Mountain of Despair, the ground began to quiver. The movement was slight, but the lamp posts shook ferociously from side to side.

We're okay.

The significance of the day's events is so heavy that my mind is still racing to grasp the experiences into a logical package.

It began with a play date - - a simple trip into the city to see the new monument.
friends' tag
I suppose, when you consider the monument we were going to see, that it was more than that from the start. Nickea, with her fair skin and bright hair, and I with my dark complexion and ebony hair strolled along with our children to see a memorial to a man whose dream it was to see prejudice eradicated and justice abundantly served - - the power of our contrasting appearances is not lost on me.
friends since the beginning
Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away, and that in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail


Kea teared up as we passed through the "Mountain of Despair" and saw the magnitude of the memorial site. I saw her glazed eyes and I chuckled. I don't know why. I asked, "Are you crying?" as though her raw emotions were somehow unexpected. I hugged my friend then, stroked her back as she wiped her tears and regained composure. And as she slide on her dark sunglasses to mask her weeping eyes, I realized (far slower than I care to admit) the significance of being in this place with her.
Our friendship - our ability to share our pregnancies, to experience our sons' milestones and life passages, to even sit down to dinner together and banter about nonsense - is something that would have been scrutinized, despised, and destroyed in the racially charged present of the 60s and 70s. And yet, our relationship is natural and it is cherished today. We teach at an ethnically diverse school. We live in an area where kids of every background frequent the playgrounds. We are living out the dream.

Rudi and Marie
While we stood reading the quotes selected for the walls around the King sculpture, we overheard Marie Davenport. "I was here with him at the March," she said. "I was here." Her companion, a jovial looking man, smiled broadly as he composed a picture of her standing next to one of the quotes. After he snapped his shot of Marie (whose infectious smile radiates on her face), the two wandered away from us to admire the stoically-carved likeness of Dr. King.

Kea saw the couple outside the memorial later and we struck up a conversation. Her husband, Rudi, native of Frankfurt Germany, stood off to her side while she recollected her work teaching for the Department of Defense schools. Marie, now 74-years-old, chatted with us for some time. She gave Chi her first person accounts of the Civil Rights Movement she was immersed in, and like any good teacher, tried to offer a context for my 8-year-old who's not yet felt the sting of boundaries set before her due to her color. "I was here when he said 'I have a dream," she said. "I was a young woman then. And here today, I was standing there looking up at King and then I saw the earth move."

Indeed, the earthquake came at a moment when hundreds of people were paying homage to a man whose personal convictions helped shape history and rocked - cracked, even - the foundation of inequality and injustice that the country was content to foster.
Our trip back from the city was harried. Fearing the Metro would shut down because of additional tremors (or full blown after shocks), we cut our trip short and sought the train station. Buildings along the Mall had been evacuated, leaving the many employees to loiter outside. Many Federal offices closed early as precaution, the workers leaving in droves. Access to the Washington Monument was halted, as Special Police lined the streets and redirected pedestrians to other walkways and spaces. It was controlled chaos.

The trains on Metro were confined to one track and travel speeds were reduced to 15 MPH. The subsequent wait for trains was endless. We were pushed into the opened doors of one train car amongst a frightening mass of would-be passengers. The woman announcer chanting "Please stand back, doors closing," droned on and on as people pushed and shoved and fussed. I fought to keep briefcases and legs away from my son sleeping in his stroller, while I was mashed uncomfortably into the wall separating the train's doorway and the handicap seating. Each stop brought more passengers, but there were few who disembarked to allow for the extra people. And the train moved slowly along the tracks while people bickered and whined about being touched, pushed, and squeezed.

When our stop finally arrived, we were pushed so ferociously out of the confinement of the train that I felt as though I had experienced some sort of rebirth into freedom.

Back home, I braced myself as I walked through the house assessing the damages. Pictures lay on the floor, their empty hooks mocking me from the wall. Several trinkets, framed photos, and other tchotchkes were strewn about. Papers, magazines and books were no longer neatly filed on their shelves. But, all in all, it was minor clean up. Except in Chi's room. There, the newly placed shelves had pulled from the wall leaving gaping holes. Her television bore a hole and the picture on the flat screen is shattered like glass on one side. But what is devastating about the damaged items is the loss of the amazing painted figures Chi had done when she was 3-5 years old. She wept as she picked up the broken pieces of her art. I can't replace them, but we will create something new from their remains.

And now, as both kids sleep off the exhaustion of their day, I sit here thinking. Today was historical. Today was something powerful. Today will shape our tomorrow.


Susan said...

I loved everything about this post. I find the co-incidence of "earth shaking" and your visit to the memorial with your friend an enlightened metaphor. I think of the times my friend Wilton from NYC spent with me growing up and how unaware I was as a child of racism and how that has been a wonderful gift as an adult. My life so much richer for not dismissing a potential connection on pre-judgement or bigotry.
I hope your daughter will "patch up" her room and build new art pieces (and get a new TV) and so glad not too much damage was done, despite that uncomfortable train passage you endured.
May today be better and richer for yestserday's experiences.

Sarah said...

Wow, I hung on every word. What an amazing post. Kenny felt it at work in NC. He works in a hospital and a bunch of the employees went outside. We were driving from Carsyn's appointment and didn't feel it. So happy that everyone was okay.

Amarie said...

Very touching post indeed. In NYC, there were so many reports of people experiencing the tremors, but I, fortunately, did not feel a thing. So glad to hear everyone is okay.

Ashley Sisk said...

Such beautiful captures - I just saw a piece on the monument this weekend...I know it was amazing. I really love that last shot.

Lori said...

Wonderful post! The pictures are so beautiful. I'm so glad everyone is alright.

Patti G said...

Wow! This was such a wonderful story. Thank you so much for sharing it. It just.....I.......wow, I really don't know what to say. I struggle greatly with the whole racist movement and the feeling of superiority that people still to this day feel they are entitled to because of the color of their skin.
And then to be standing right there with the likeness of the man who began one of the most important changes in our country's history and to feel the power of the earthquake..............wow----------------the irony of it all.
I'll stop now because I'm seriously struggling for words here.........thank you again for sharing such a personal moment in your life.

erica @ expatriababy said...

This is a wonderfully moving post. Poignant, insightful and well written. It's my first time visiting here (via And Then, She Snapped) but I can tell you that I'll be back.

Tara said...

what a beautiful post! So well written! And I love your pictures.. as always! :)

Chasing Joy said...

This is a really great post! And the picture of the boys is very moving along with the post. I had a similar experience last night going to see The Help with one of my good friend. She is white and I am black. Was thinking of writing a post about it.

Stopping by from write on edge

Chris said...

What a wonderful story! So many stories and articles tend to focus on the negative side of race relations, the hatred and prejudice that still remains today. But your story was so positive, genuine, and full of heart. It's great to see that Dr. King's message and spirit do live on. And the earthquake was a perfect backdrop to your theme. You can't make this stuff up, can you?

I found this post through Write On Edge and I really enjoyed it. Thank you for sharing!

Elisa said...

A beautiful post. Every word of it was perfect. The emotions and feeling was all there for us to experience with you. Sometimes I forget how much pictures add that special touch and these pics spoke thousands of words on top of yours. well done! Visiting from Write On Edge.