“Or does it explode?”
We planned to go to St. Louis to visit my husband’s family for Thanksgiving. My parents-in-law live there, as does my sister-in-law and her family. My daughters were excited; they don’t get to see that side of the family often. So we packed. Stopped the mail. Ate up all the food in the house. All the things that one does when preparing for a week-long trip. We were going to leave on Tuesday morning.
Of course, we’d been watching the news, my husband and I, waiting to hear the announcement of the Grand Jury’s decision. My sister-in-law called, telling us to be careful, obviously anxious about the tense situation. When I went to bed, no announcement had been made. An hour later, my husband came in the bedroom and said, “No indictment.”
My reaction: This isn’t going to be good.
By morning, Ferguson had exploded.
Not literally. But I thought of a Langston Hughes poem I read in high school. “Harlem” asks the question, “What happens when dreams are deferred?” Hughes offers various answers in the form of metaphors. But the last line rang in my mind: “Or does it explode?“
“This is bigger than you”
We decided that it wasn’t a good idea for us to be in the St. Louis area. Our hotel destination was thirteen miles from West Florissant Street; we would be driving through unstable areas. While my husband cancelled the hotel reservation, I broke the news to our daughters. Both burst into tears, ran to their rooms and slammed the doors.
I went to my older daughter’s room. “Listen,” I said. “Have you heard of Michael Brown?” My voice wavered, and I drew a deep breath, remembering that my daughter has read quite a few books on the Holocaust and that she’s not unaware of the hatred this world contains. “Listen.”
And as she listened, I told her the bare bones of the story. Michael Brown. Darren Wilson. The protesters. The grand jury. The anger. The announcement. And now, the violence.
“Sometimes people use a protest as an excuse to do wrong. Not all the protesters are violent, but some are, and they’re making things hard for other people . . . Stores have been looted, police cars have been set on fire. Even the schools have had to close.
“We don’t think it would be safe for us to be near that area. Your aunt lives far enough away that she’s probably safe. Grandma and Grandpa have another house where they can stay if things get bad.
“Daddy and I are not being mean and trying to spoil your Thanksgiving. We know you’re disappointed and frustrated. We understand. But this is bigger than you.“
“Good from Bad”
I found my younger daughter sitting in her closet, crying. I sat down in the closet and she crawled into my lap. She’s only seven, so I had to explain in more simple terms.
“People are angry because of a decision that’s been made. And some of those people are angry enough to be dangerous, and it wouldn’t be safe in the area where we were going to be staying.”
She was still sniffling.
“Do you think we should pray about this?”
She nodded. So I prayed with her.
Dear Jesus, please protect Grandma and Grandpa and everyone else we love in St. Louis. Please protect everyone in Ferguson . . . the protesters, the police, and everyone who lives there. Please calm the situation, so that real work can be done. That people can learn to understand each other. To forgive. To change things that need to be changed. Please make something good come from all this bad.
Good coming from bad. I thought of all the bad:
A career ruined. Stores looted and robbed and burned, hard work destroyed. Dreams destroyed. Families and friends grieved and angered. Instability in a small town. Mistrust of the legal system. And most of all, a young life lost.
My children weren’t the only ones who wanted to cry.