Philip told me it was raining. I went outside and it was still, the crickets said it’s still summer, but I felt no rain. I walked down the porch stairs and path and stood near the sidewalk and listened with my skin. There were drops. Light and slight, evaporating almost on contact with skin. I laid down on the cement path with my head touching the sidewalk and looked up at the night sky.
It was there, more thin drops like small points of sharp light hitting my warm skin, waking it up. I looked up at the lights on in my house and the familiar experience of being outside looking in was, for once, warm and comforting. I belong somewhere with some people. I belong here. The warmth coming from the house was everything any person could dream of.
This is grace. This is fortune. This is what it feels like to live where there is no war or bombs or excessive crime. I don’t take my fortune for granted. I never do. Every scrap of what I’ve got is cherished though I reserve and exercise the right to complain about minor things because it’s human and it’s natural and I don’t believe in saints and martyrs.
I lay there on the cement walkway with the dark grey sky spread out above me and I wished that everyone on earth could experience this quiet peace as I was able to tonight. I remember the car-jacker in our San Francisco neighborhood shooting off a couple hundred rounds of ammunition and our block being surrounded by police and in the end the only casualty was a homeless man who was killed. I mourned him and after 18 years I still think of him sometimes.
So I thought of all the families listening to missiles drop and crush their neighbors, their own children, all across the world, and I made a secular wish that they might all have what I have right now, this night of quiet and peace.
Don’t care about your race or religion – I wish with all my heart that everyone get a moment like I had tonight. It’s the most any of us can hope for but many never get. This peaceful quiet, this beautiful cessation of abrasive noise and danger.
I have renewed my vow to never be silent about things that matter. Even if it means speaking out puts me in a dangerous situation. Even if it means risking my freedom and friendships. I know who I am and what’s important and I know what silence does to honesty. I know what silence does to the abused. I know how fear fuels evil. I will not be party to it – EVER.
I understand the potential cost. I’ve felt the burn of honesty enough to know the real risks. I’m no innocent with shining armour and virtue. I know the waste of noble action and true empathy. I know what I have to lose and I know what it’s worth.
This week I was remembering the first time I experienced chivalry. I was in second grade in a tough multicultural grade school. I was the victim of frequent bullying and my things were regularly destroyed, my lunchboxes found smashed at the school fence. Kids tormented me and one even tried out her early mugging skills on me.
One day I was saving bees from the asphalt, picking them up and putting them on the weak shrubs growing at the edge of the school yard. Some kids were ridiculing me for trying to save the stupid goddamn bees and this one black boy stepped in and told them all off. I remember trying to ignore the hecklers and this knight stepped in and drew a protective circle around me and told the hecklers to leave me alone or they’d be sorry. He liked bees or me, who can say? I know that I loved him for that. I was going to pick the bees up off the tarmac and set them in the bushes even if it meant I’d be beat up for it later but this gallant older student (5th or 6th grade) became my protector and all my life I have treasured his action, treasured his championship, treasured this protection he offered in a tough school I regularly lost out in.
He didn’t do it because I was some awesome deserving kid. He did it because it was in his code to stand up for the meek, to stand up for others, to risk himself to protect people less able than himself. I have no way of knowing what ever happened to him, how life treated him as he grew up, whether he ever needed someone to stand up for him and had his own guardian or if he was let down?
I am strong now and I am strong in part because he stood up for me. I am a believer in humans because of people like him. I didn’t have much as a kid, no sense of autonomy or bravery. I lived scared shitless in my own home. This fine young man gave me a circle of safety that other students respected.
He shaped my sense of ethics and humanity, my obligation to my greater community of brothers and sisters. He showed me the way to act, to protect, to stand up and say no to assholes. Every time in my life that I’ve mustered the bravery to stand up on someone else’s behalf, he’s been in my heart and my memory.
I wish I knew his name. I knew it when I was 7 years old. I wish I could tell him what a profound effect his small action had on my sense of self and how I have worked to become a torch bearer for chivalry because he spread his cloak for me.
So this week as political opinions become increasingly hateful and divisive with regards to Israel versus Palestinians, I will wear this memory of chivalry pinned straight through my heart because before we are organized by race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or nationality, we are all human and this is the immutable commonality that binds us all together. At the core of everything the only thing that matters is how we comport ourselves in the world, how we treat others, and our commitment to being empathetic human beings who are willing to risk our own skin to protect others regardless of their differences from us.