“Have a blessed day,” they say here in the south at some point every day in the course of your travels (back when we had travels). It usually comes from someone who is perhaps down and out or struggling somehow, and I respond with reverence because I know that my higher power is present in that moment. I have never said it, however, not because I haven’t struggled but because, as a native New Yorker, it never felt like mine to say (even after thirty years here in metro Atlanta). Until yesterday, when I think I finally found my way home to it.
I rode my bike in the City of Atlanta yesterday. It was my first time there since March 11, due to COVID-19. I went specifically to pay homage at the John Lewis mural (which is serving as a memorial), necessitated by the life-threatening experience I had closer to home last week and my need to be reminded about “staying in the streets” metaphorically and literally, and fighting for what I believe.
Although I have been to that mural a thousand times already, nothing prepared me for yesterday. Solemn energy hung in the air and a sparse early-morning presence of people meant each person felt monumental. The collection of flowers and messages lines the base of the mural but only hints at the outpouring of emotion and honor that is still to come. I even watched a white man in a red hat place an American flag there. Here. See for yourself:
None of this is unexpected or odd following the death of a Civil Rights icon and beloved government representative in the very district he served for seventeen consecutive terms.
What struck me, however, was the incredible weight, in general, that people are carrying there at the mural and throughout the City of Atlanta, hard hit by the pandemic and passionate about protests and pummeled by death (including losing not just John Lewis but also Civil Rights icon Reverend C.T. Vivian on the very same day).
I have been ensconced in suburbia, separated from this particular, palpable pain for more than four months now. But now I could so clearly feel what you can’t see on the news.
It was everywhere. In the art. In the air. And in the hearts and faces (mostly with only eyes visible due to masks) with whom I crossed paths. And everyone wants to talk. Not just to tell John Lewis’ story, but to tell their story*.
And so, while able thanks to the grace of God to still travel at a pace where I can look humanity in the face**, I listened.
I leaned my bike against a light post across the street from the mural and listened to a man named Ron on the corner of Auburn Avenue, in front of Big Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church where a sign says “God is our refuge and strength!”
I listened on Edgewood to the man also taking photos of the Black Lives Matter mural on the street, while the face of George Floyd watched us.
I listened at the corner of Peachtree and Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard (named for another Civil Rights icon) when, stopped for a light, I asked a man just sitting there how he was doing and he talked and talked and talked about John Lewis and these times we’re in and faith and hope and love.
And I listened to the family I met on the corner of John Lewis Freedom Parkway and Boulevard, overlooking the skyline of Downtown Atlanta, where I had first ridden this bike that was up in my attic for more than 20 years. Where I had first set myself free about seven years ago in so, so many ways.
And so, perhaps, it was no surprise, after hearing so many people’s heavy stories, heaving hearts, and hopeful dreams that when I passed someone’s temporary home in the middle of the Krog Street Tunnel — with a sleeping mat all neat and tidy, an unlocked bike, an improvised shoe rack, and even a spice collection — and I saw the trusting sign that said “This is all I have. Please don’t take anything,” reminding us of our potential for good in a broken world, I finally uttered those magical words.
Have a blessed day.
Because I just did.
* I did not take any photos of the nice strangers I met for my Today’s Nice Stranger photo essay because, in all honestly, I was the stranger yesterday.
** Worth repeating (if only as a reminder to myself):
Related post: May He Finally Rest. In Peace.