There are times in life when it’s hard to figure out what to say. Comforting someone who has lost a beloved family member, for example. There are no words to meet that grief adequately, the small, clumsy ones we use never feel like they are enough. Or when a catastrophe hits, and whole cities are flooded and there are so many hurt or killed. We mourn in silence as often as not, our hearts chilled and ashamed that we feel relieved that it didn’t happen to us. Maybe you’ve been struck dumb when a friendship ended, harsh words spewed that cannot be retrieved, and the break cannot be repaired. There are not enough words, no words sufficient to the task. Only silence pervades and emptiness.
These are times when I have felt this profoundly. The death and disruption caused by the coronavirus is hard to capture fully in words. I want to rage against the inequity that has been exposed: Black and brown communities have been disproportionately affected. I want to scream into the void for the suffering: families separated from loved ones in nursing homes, people dying by themselves in ICUs, the horrifying consequences of the virus in the bodies of loved ones. I am left speechless by the distance that we all have to maintain. I want to sing with others, hug friends, meet for coffee in a shop. And what was normal life will never return.
Then comes the murder of George Floyd and social media blew up with images and words and words and words and words. Protests began and continued. Days and nights of unrest, police violence, smashed glass, tear gas, rubber bullets, and concussive grenades. Who has words to explore all the feelings: grief, loss, rage, shame, and more. How could we let things get this bad? How did we white people forget that there was work to do? So much feels like too little, too late.
News emerges months after events: Ahmaud Arbery is chased and shot to death and his killers are let off and we don’t know until 3 months later. Breonna Taylor is shot in her home by police who have entered the wrong house to serve a warrant. Manuel Ellis dies because of police restraint in our backyard and we didn’t know. Who can speak to the sadness and grief and outrage?
And here are too many words. And none are adequate to the moment.
But this is nothing new. Times of great transformation — and I do believe this is a time of great transformation — leave us speechless, until something new is ready to be born and the words of a new language form. I am waiting and watching along with putting my body in the street, sending donations, and finding places where I can connect and work to create whatever is being born.
We don’t and can’t know what will come next. Still, let us be faithful to the possibilities and join in the work of creation as we can.