The song won’t leave me alone. I awake to birds whose song apparently won’t leave them alone either. 4 AM. If I close my eyes, can I make it go away?
All of it–the noise outside, the noise in my head, the hint of sunlight telling me sleep is dead?
And now the song in my head has me rhyming.
“Stop it now, I mean it!” my sleepy brain implores.
My loose-associations brain responds, in the voice of Fezzik, with the offer of a peanut.
“I know, I know. I ‘eat and drink while tomorrow they die.’ Even if it is just a peanut.”
I roll over and try again to make it go away. But this song clings to my mind like a barnacle. On a ship that refuses to set sail because it is all too much.
I have an op-ed to write; more thank you notes to nearby police departments, chiefs, and families; more letters to local and national leaders; more pleas to my white friends, family, and favorite artists to carry this torch that has been carried so long, mostly by my black brothers and sisters.
And really, I don’t have time. My family needs me. The house we’re building needs me. I need me.
But since I can’t go back to sleep, I might as well scroll through the headlines and social media feeds for a minute.
I can’t believe the news today…when fact is fiction and TV a reality
Everyone finds news that tells them what they want to hear. And then they share it with the world as if it is the only available perspective. I set down my phone. I try to leave that stuff alone on Sunday anyway.
Sunday bloody Sunday
Isn’t this the U2 song about Martin Luther King Jr.? The barnacle tries to answer, but its mouth is face-down, so all I get is “erer merer ay-er fer.” OK, OK. I’ll ask Google.
I read through the lyrics for the song stuck in my head and find nothing about “early morning April 4.” So why is this song stuck in my head? Isn’t my subconscious brain trying to send me a message about the history of black Americans?
Google gets its next inquiry. Because now I’m thinking, “Irish rock band, therefore, civil war.”
Cursor set. I type “what is Sunday bloody…” and a drop box supplies the rest “…Sunday about,” so I select, and there it is:
“Bloody Sunday, or the Bogside Massacre, was a mass shooting on 30 January 1972 in the Bogside area of Derry, Northern Ireland, when British soldiers shot 26 unarmed civilians during a protest march…”Wikipedia
Now I get it. My barnacle-of-a-song began with the events of June 1, 2020 in Washington, D.C. With the horror I felt when I read how peaceful protesters at a church near the White House were tear gassed–wait–merely pepper sprayed so that a divisive photo-op could take place.
And now two weeks removed, the more I read, the more the urgency of that moment fades.
“Oh, I see. There had been rioters and destruction over the past 72 hours in that area. And the police had been overwhelmed, so they did need support from the National Guard…hmmm…so many layers. Maybe I did overreact.”
But now as the singing of birds fades too, the final words of the song stuck in my head, awaken me fully:
And the battle’s just begun; To claim the victory Jesus won…on Sunday…
Today is Sunday.
And now I know what my brain keeps trying to tell me:
Elissa, when you can’t get a song out of your head, or when it feels like someone is trying to agitate you by harping on the same few lines over and over and over again, learn the whole song.
Learn the whole song.
Start at the beginning.
Learn the next line and the line after that until you know it by heart. Explore its author, its background, its truth.
Stop resisting the message of those who fought before you, who beseech you with, “How long must we sing this song?”
Their message may ring from a stage before millions, from the top of a cross before hundreds, or from the noose on a tree before a mob, but until we hear the song of anti-racism, the words will just keep haunting us until we can no longer ignore them. But by then, the message might be lost on us in the tumult of anger and breakdown.
When will we have ears to hear? When will we, as Jesus will, wipe [their] tears away? (see Revelation 21:3-8) Those who overcome fear and unbelief are those who will inherit all things, not those who believe it’s true we are immune and simply retreat into their comfortable lives after the news clip has ended (I won’t link to those cold-blooded nine minutes).
Just as with a deadly virus, those who see themselves as immune to racism ought to be at the front lines fighting this battle, but instead we’re relying on the repeatedly traumatized caregivers–the black people in this country. It is they who primarily bear the burden of explaining patiently to white people what privilege, guilt, and fragility mean; who may endure everything from the absurd request to “let me feel your poofy hair” to the hateful epithets cast like sharp stones at a fellow citizen who thought themselves welcome.
And they have put up with it because fighting back makes you an agitator. Makes it OK for people with your skin color to be incarcerated at a rate more than six times that of white people. Why do we continue perpetuating black men as inherently dangerous? Why is it acceptable to focus on and question the legitimacy of only those who fight back with violence and destruction? If we miss the legitimate message, or at least don’t respond to it, how do we appease our collective conscience?
Because despite what we might think MLK did–along his peaceful, intentional followers–for black America fifty years ago by bringing about civil rights for all Americans, I doubt he has truly found rest. When he died on April 4, 1968, he may as well have asked the world if we would “heed the battle call.”*
The anti-racism movement truly came to life when an assassin tried to snuff it out. It was that shot heard round the world that every war here has ultimately been about.
So Elissa, if you haven’t gotten woke, wake up.
The world needs you to see the light of this new day or we will never be as one but remain as mothers, children, brothers, sisters torn apart.
[I know U2 is now a band from the olden days, but if post-punk rock, all-white, multi-platinum music doesn’t wake up pre-millennial white people, what will? For a more Sunday-sounding option, here is the church song my brain turns to whenever it searches for just the right hymn. I am happy to help you join the ranks of peaceful, decisive change if you’d like to comment below.]
*Originally read: ‘When he died on April 4, 1968, he may as well have declared, “The battle’s just begun.”’ I had intended to use a different line of the song and my tired brain forgot.