By Elene Loecher, Becketwood Member
Thursday morning, June 4, my friend Mary and I made a pilgrimage to the memorial site for George Floyd at East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in our city of Minneapolis. It was clear to both of us that this was not a drive to “look at” something. It was a journey to experience whatever would be ours to experience. The drive was only about four miles. A pilgrimage is usually a long journey. The journey to this site has been much longer and not measurable in miles.
At 8:45 a.m. wearing masks and already feeling the warmth of the day, we stepped out of our car, me from the back seat and Mary from the front seat, keeping the pandemic guidelines as best we could. We walked in silence, noticing what we noticed. Mary wordlessly pointed to a single, very tiny red bud on a rose bush. Seeing the bud as a symbol, a question arose within me, “What new life and possibilities might emerge from all the tragedy, anger, fear, grief and destruction?” The next hour and a half was spent in allowing the reality of what happened and its consequences to enter more deeply into the bones and marrow of my being.
We walked slowly, taking in the words written in chalk on the street or painted on signs along the blocks to the intersection of 38th and Chicago. The first message I saw was scripted in large, beautiful, chalk letters: LOVE, CONNECT, HEAL. I paused and reflected on such clear directions for the journey.
The next words stopped me for a longer time. On the street was a large rectangle of white paint with large black letters that said,
THE LORD SAID
WHAT HAVE YOU DONE
YOUR BROTHERS BLOOD
CRIES OUT TO ME
I heard these lines from the story of Cain and Abel like never before. The first of many tears began to flow. My heart opened to whatever would come next.
There were more words, each requiring a pause and reflection. I am not able to print the words in their original arrangement, but the message is there. “ Love Dissolves Hate.” More truth. “My cries are 4 humanity.” “Complacency is a far more DANGEROUS attitude than Outrage.” “We can’t Breathe. A badge is NOT a license to Kill—You’ll hear OUR VOICE Because you SILENCED Theirs.”
As I approached the intersection of 38th and Chicago, the actual ground of George Floyd’s murder, these words were painted in black on the sidewalk,
We march, ya’ll mad
We sit down, ya’ll mad
We speak up, ya’ll mad
We die, ya’ll silent.
Next was the area seen on television multiple times. It has become known as a shrine to George Floyd. Or, as I like to call it, an altar of remembrance, a sacred place. Among many flowers and signs in the large circle, a more accurate translation of Genesis 4:10 appeared, this time on a large poster board painted black with white lettering except for the word “Blood” painted in red.
“The Lord said, ‘What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s Blood cries out to me from the ground!’” More tears as the reality of those words cried out from the very ground itself.
I spontaneously knelt with bowed head, crying, for at least ten minutes, a minute or so more than the time George Floyd felt the pressure of a knee on his neck and died. It was a moment like no other moment. Many people took pause and knelt at this spot. The pain and agony of what happened on this piece of ground and the pain and agony of all who have knelt on this spot, who felt the enormity of what this intersection of 38th and Chicago held, was palpable.
As I write this sequence of events, I see now how I was being prepared for what happened next. Just as one enters the unknown on any pilgrimage, this was no exception. As I stood and started to move around the memorial, I saw a black man standing with a younger black woman. The man was sobbing and the woman had her hand on his shoulder, exuding a presence of comfort and strength. As soon as I saw him, my heart opened even more and I spontaneously felt a connection with him. I stood directly facing him, at approximately 6-foot distance, placed my hands on my heart and sobbed with him. The three of us stood without moving, continuing to be rooted in what was happening. There was no time, only Presence. He continued to cry and I continued to stand, looking at him directly, crying with hands crossed over my heart.
These were precious moments of pure connection and presence. There was no fixing to be done, no comfort to be given, no helper or one to be helped. Only moments not bound by chronological time, of two human beings, one black, one white, one male and the other female, two hearts connected in moments of what felt like pure presence. Sacred moments on Sacred Ground in Sacred space and time.
I experienced Presence, connection, love and compassion. It felt like I was rooted in place and radiating love and compassion. There was nothing to change because I couldn’t. By not trying to change anything, I was changed. The consequences of 400 years of domination was being FELT – the enormous PAIN of it all seemed to land here at 38th and Chicago in Minneapolis, MN.
A reporter noticed the man and woman and very respectfully asked if he could speak with them. It was agreed and they sat on the curb with the reporter on his haunches and talked.
I moved on to other areas and stood before the large mural of George Floyd, which had become yet another shrine and often televised image. More flowers and more signs. One read:
2014 I can’t breathe (a reference to Eric Garner)
2020 I can’t breathe
People are angry because waiting patiently for 6 years DID NOT WORK
Another place to pause, feel, pray and cry.
After some time, Mary and I reconnected and agreed we would continue the pilgrimage back toward the car. We saw tables and tables of food some of which was being cooked to eat on site and some was available to those who no longer had a grocery store available. Fresh produce, bread and other basic items were freely provided. There were other food trucks along the way with free food for anyone who was hungry, those from the neighborhood and protesters who were there for long hours.
We met and observed a man from St. Cloud, about 1½ hours from Minneapolis, who was an extremely skilled organizer. He was coordinating drop-off sites for $50,000 worth of diapers and formula that St. Cloud area residents had donated and that was now coming in vans and trucks to be distributed. There was so much generosity, care and love in evidence as we made our way back toward the car.
As we continued south on Chicago Avenue, we came to the corner of 40th Street, where we would turn left to walk to our car. We noticed a pillar on the corner and stopped to look at the words and designs. The four-sided pillar was erected in 1998 as an expression of gratitude for the creation of Phelps Park.
As I turned to move toward the car, and not far from where I was standing, I saw the black man and woman I connected with earlier walking toward me. I was in utter amazement at the synchronicity and flow of events. My whole being lit up to see them and I felt the same connection, love and compassion that I felt earlier. The man opened his arms and I spontaneously opened mine and we hugged, a real hug, meaning felt and in present time. It left no doubt about the connection between us. We then just looked into each other’s eyes for a moment. The woman then opened her arms to me and I responded. Again, a real hug. Once again, there was no time, only Presence.
I was in total awe and amazement at this gift. There were no words earlier and there were no words now, other than to tell each other our names. He was Carlos and she was his daughter My'eisha and I, Elene. These were the only words spoken and yet so much had been communicated. I have often repeated Thich Nhat Hanh’s words, “Present moment. Only moment.” The words were now embodied. I bowed in awe at the amazing precision of all that had just happened. A simple showing up for life as it unfolded was pure grace.
Mary and I continued in silence to our car. We could only be with the power of what we each experienced. The morning experiences were followed in the afternoon by George Floyd’s memorial service in Minneapolis. June 4 was a powerful day in my life.
It has been eleven days since June 4. Eleven days of absorbing, processing and praying over the events of that day and all that has unfolded in the days since. That makes today Monday, June 15. I awoke this morning with a strong nudge to make an effort to find the interview of Carlos and My'eisha. I had a few clues. I recognized the reporter from watching the evening news and knew his last name was Gutierrez and that he was a reporter for NBC. After several calls to our local and New York NBC news stations, I learned the reporter’s first name was Gabe and got the information I needed to do a search on Google. I typed the following in the search bar: nbc.com Gabe Gutierrez interview of Carlos in Minneapolis on June 4. To my utter amazement, the first image that appeared was Carlos sitting on the curb! This was the interview!
I learned what his deep pain and tears were about. Toward the end of the interview, Carlos spoke about solutions. “I don’t know what the solution is but I know that yesterday’s answers were answers for yesterday’s questions. Yesterday’s solutions were for yesterday’s problems.” The last part of what he said was not clear on the tape but I think it was, “And we don’t have to accept those for today.”
I began by saying that the drive to 38th and Chicago was an intentional pilgrimage. A description of pilgrimage that describes my experience is: “A pilgrimage is a journey, often into an unknown or foreign place, where a person goes in search of new or expanded meaning about the self, others, nature, or a higher good through the experience. It can lead to a personal transformation after which the pilgrim returns to their daily life.”
I have returned to my daily life and I am not the same person I was on June 3. The pilgrimage continues. The initial directions for the journey written in chalk on the street, “LOVE, CONNECT, HEAL,” came to pass. I believe those simple directions point the way for the remaining challenging days ahead. Lastly, the lyrics of Holly Near’s 2006 song, I am Willing, speak to where the journey has led me.
I am open and I am willing
For to be hopeless would seem so strange
It dishonors those who go before us
So lift me up to the light of change.
There is hurting in my family
There is sorrow in my town
There is panic all across the nation
There is wailing the whole world round.
May the children see more clearly
May the elders be more wise
May the winds of change caress us
Even though it burns our eyes.
Give me a mighty oak to hold my confusion
Give me a desert to hold my fears
Give me a sunset to hold my wonder
And give me an ocean to hold my tears.