Friday night, lit by the ghoulish glow of a Super Target’s Home and Garden section, we got another glimpse into the soggy, charcoal murk of American racism.
It was a mirthless, baleful, shit-show of flaccid rage that made your stomach churn like the bottom of the ocean when the tide goes out.
It tasted bitter, watching the televised devolution of America — a drunken, lurching, step in the exact wrong direction –, a kind of copper-tasting bile that reverse vomited onto the gag-landing-pad on the slimy parts of our tongues, that we don’t use except as a kind of human ejector seat to stop ourselves from choking to death.
And make no mistake: on this night, America was gagging. Choking. We needed a Heimlich, or a slap on the back, or maybe even hell even an exorcism, but when we looked around for help, there wasn’t a single godforsaken doctor in this house. Not on this night. Not for this country.
Saturday afternoon, as our country descended into a coldly sweating, dry-heaving, fever-dream, I was watching the International Association of Athletics Federations world championships on NBC.
You know the feeling when you’ve had about 2.5 drinks too many and you’ve just nose-dived into the bed leaving a trail of clothing behind like some cotton fiber SOS message? When the liquid bear trap is sprung on your body and your head starts rotating on its axis in a real-life version of those hypnosis whirls you see in the cartoons? All you can do is hang onto the edge of the bed and push your tongue against the roof of your mouth, lodged against your teeth like a human barricade to try to stop yourself from getting sick.
That was me on Saturday.
Only I wasn’t drunk (*Author’s note: this time). And I wasn’t in bed.
I had been watching television coverage, imbibing 140-character shots and sipping slowly on the noxious maelstrom occurring some 1,187.9 miles to the East of me. Simply put: all hell was breaking loose in Charlottesville, Virginia. All hell was breaking loose in our country.
My 5-year-old son caught a glimpse of White Supremacists swinging sticks and viciously attacking counterprotestors. He leaned up against my back, fuzzy brown hair still stuck in crazy, little boy bedhead mode and asked me, “Dad, is that real?”
For a moment, I didn’t know what the hell to do. I have never wanted to lie about something so bad. I wanted to tell him that it was a movie. That it was nothing. That this was some kind of footage from another country that was not the stars and the stripes and the place that I so deeply loved. I didn’t lie to him. But I didn’t tell him the whole truth either. How do you tell someone so little that your country can hold such hate within its borders? That that red on the flag can look a whole lot like blood if you’re at the right angle? How do you tell anyone that you still believe in something so damaged? In the end, I settled on a vague, Dad-speak answer. Half-mumbled. Half numb. All dumb.
The truth is: I wasn’t even sure if it was real.
Oversaturated with angst, anger, and self-loathing, I needed to ring myself out.
Instead of gripping the side of the bed, I reached out and grabbed onto sports. Track and Field to be precise. The most simple, boiled down sport that there is and was. A group of people start in the same place. Run the same distance. And whoever gets there first: wins. No biases. No bullshit. You just run and run and run and then if you cross that line first: that’s it. Damn it all, but that simplicity is beautiful in a world that is anything but.
I watched as the US Women’s 4×100 relay blistered the track, running a fantastic race to take home the World Championship gold medal. It was fast, smooth, and akin to watching a jet take off from a runway. The men, for their part, suffered a stunning loss to home team Great Britain, but still came up with a silver medal after their young anchor leg — burgeoning sprint star Christian Coleman — let his inexperience show a bit over the last 100 meters.
Here they are celebrating their opportunity to represent our nation.
I watched them lift our nation up while back across the Atlantic, we were doing them no justice.
Look at that picture. The flag is wrapped around them tightly, a blanket of symbolism that I feel compelled — perhaps inexplicably — to still believe in. I want to believe that that flag in their hands is a sail to catch the wind and take us on new voyages to uncharted waters, not a net that would ensnare those people less fortunate than I am as they struggle to escape.
Here were 8 of our nation’s finest athletes on the world stage with our nation’s colors enfolding them, glory in their eyes and wings on their heels and the only colors we should have cared about on this Saturday afternoon were red and white and blue.
But, in 2017 it’s not that simple. In America it’s not that simple. Both of those sentences are disturbing. Read them again.
I understand that race in our country is a gaping, open wound. It’s deep and infected and there’s not enough antibiotic in the world to clean it out. I understand that I am a white guy and that moments like this, however brutal and disturbing to me, are experienced linearly and that it can be a dizzyingly cyclical recurrence for people with different skin color than I have. Every time I think we’re making progress, I am reminded that what I see isn’t the same as what is there.
I watched my 5-month old daughter roll over for the first time on Saturday, while I was laying on the floor next to her witnessing Nazi flags paraded down the streets of an American city and the gentrified, polo-wearing, new-age Klansmen feeling emboldened by their stupefying strength in numbers.
"No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion…" pic.twitter.com/InZ58zkoAm
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 13, 2017
In a few days, our nation will be utterly enthralled with a total solar eclipse. The sun will disappear behind the moon and day will become night. Literal darkness will descend on our country, shadows growing long around us; the first of its kind in the US since 1918.
We’ll slap on our cardboard glasses and step outside to look to the sky, marvelling at the scope of the universe and our own insignificance on this one tiny planet, in this one tiny nation. It may be the first of its kind in almost 100 years, but it will only be the second time that darkness has overtaken the day in the past few weeks for this country.
What we do when the shadows fade and the sun makes its return? That will define us.
(*Author’s note: here is a piece written about ways in which you can help, even from afar. Go here. Donate. Volunteer. Vote. Do a little. Or a lot. Ask questions. Have patience. Remember who we are. Remember where we’ve been. Don’t forget where we can go.)