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Selma

I was at Selma with a friend, only a few minutes in; we’d just watched King accept the Nobel Peace Prize, and now four school girls were walking down the steps of a church, deep inside their lives, cradled inside the building, walking and talking and laughing, and my friend leaned over and whispered, “You know what’s going to happen, don’t you?” And I wasn’t thinking but then I knew, in a split second, these were the girls in Birmingham, and I averted my eyes just as the bomb went off, and when I opened them again windows were exploding and the girls were thrown in the air, over the bannister. And as the camera lingered on the carnage, the dead bodies, I started to cry, devastated by the act, but also out of relief, for my friend had saved me another blind crash inside the head, one more shell-shock moment averted. Whenever King sat next to a window, I winced and waited for a brick, or a Molotov cocktail, to come flying through the window. (How can anyone live with that much death hovering outside the window?) Every time a protester got slammed to the ground by a cop or a man or woman was punched in the face or knocked into a wall or billy-clubbed or shot in the stomach, I felt the shocks in my body. Was meant to make some sense of the violence, the hatred enacted, to feel it in my bones. And I received it without remorse. When the marchers were met on the bridge with a wall of hate and vitriol, we held hands and took the beatings full on, accepting passively each rage-filled act. Neither of us cared to step back from fear. And I don’t want my own shellshock to keep me from the painful truths of our world. Isn’t that always the fight? To stay awake. To be courageous. Not to slip into sleepwalking. Not to shut down in overwhelm or boredom or abject fear…I keep thinking, I am not the man I was. I am not the man I was. And I usually mean that I am less of a man, but times when it’s most definitely more. Not to slip into self-pity or nostalgia or delusion. Not to let fatigue and depression and dread bring me down. Not to let overload and triggers shut me down. To walk up onto that bridge, hand in hand, or sit at my desk by the window, and face down anything that threatens to bring me down.