Eve West Bessier
June 11, 2020
It Started with a Lightning Strike
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. – Edmund Burke
Looking north, I see thunderheads building in the Gila Wilderness. Extremely good news as there is a forest fire burning nine miles away. It’s been doubling in size for the past three days.
The Forest Service assures us that it’s burning north and away from town, but we’ve been tense, nervous. The animals in our psyches are uneasy. The arrival of monsoon rains this afternoon could mean that the fire will be drenched. So, let the rains come down.
So far, not a drop, but even the thickening cloud cover will help.
I had my own monsoon rain earlier this week, prompted by overwhelm and fatigue. I cried and cried until I was shaking and my teeth rattled. It was a deeper release than I have experienced in many years. It left me limp but ultimately revived my spirits and brought me a sense of clarity by morning.
The smoke in the north continues to ascend. Yesterday morning, it blanked the area so thickly we could not see the trees in our yard even from ten feet away. It hurt to breathe.
It started with a lightning strike, this fire. Such fires are a natural part of the forest’s life cycle and clear out the underbrush that can lead to more devastating fires if left to grow unchecked.
Such fires are essential, but can become a threat to those who live in close proximity. The price we pay to be near wilderness is to be near all of its natural cycles.
Our nation too is experiencing an essential fire. Our hearts have been set aflame with the urgency of purging our society, finally and thoroughly, of racial prejudice.
Our hearts are finally not willing to further endure or allow the shameful litany of injustice against peoples of color that has made its bloody and unconscionable mark on our past and on our present.
The fire in our hearts also started with a lightning strike.
On Memorial Day, a middle-aged black man named George Floyd was killed by suffocation in Minneapolis. He was being arrested for allegedly using a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill to buy a pack of cigarettes at a convenience store. Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, held Floyd handcuffed and lying face down in the street by kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe.” A second and third officer further restrained Floyd while a fourth prevented bystanders from intervening.
It was not the first of such deaths in our country. It was just one more in the long history of our nation’s acts of oppression and extreme aggression towards peoples of color.
But it was caught on camera, and the outrage at this act of violence spread like a wildfire, across the city, across the nation, across the entire world. Igniting hearts towards change. Towards change that can no longer be denied or delayed. Change that must happen now.
Finally, the good men and the good women are no longer willing to do nothing.
Finally, they are willing to stand up to evil and reveal the sickness in the bone, the never eradicated pandemic of racial prejudice and hatred that chokes our society.
They are standing up in the cities. They are standing up in the small towns. They are standing up even in the deep south where prejudice is the most engrained.
They are standing up to speak truth. They are standing up to demand justice. They are standing together, every race together for each other.
Let their cleansing fire burn, let it clear away the illness deep in our marrow, so that we can heal, so that we can finally become whole.
Let there be no drenching of this fire that encourages true “liberty and justice for all.”
Statues of Confederate generals are being pulled down across the American south, even in the racist heart of Virginia. Statues represent that which we honor and also that which governs us. The removal represents that racism and division are not what we honor. They are not what governs us.
Let what governs us be our hearts and the dignity they deserve. Let us honor the statue which represents all that America strives to be, the Statue of Liberty.
As I write this, thick drops are beginning to hit the windows. The rains have arrived. To the north the clouds are black with moisture. Curtains of grey rain are falling. I think our concerns about the forest fire can be laid to rest.
But our concerns about the future of our nation and the world can not be laid to rest. We must continue to stand up against injustice. We must continue to make our voices heard. Silence is not an option.
History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period
of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people,
but the appalling silence of the good people. – Martin Luther King, Jr.