The Speaker of the United States House of Representatives was at a funeral as Congress struggled with a stimulus package and COVID-19 relief. That did not offend me but neither did it offend me that the Republicans in Congress and the White House did not attend. Nor did I feel it incongruous that George H. W. Bush chose to speak. These are complex political times. Each American must struggle to find their way through all the crises we face and the racial tensions we endure as rationally and wisely as we can.
I am spending part of my day today watching the CBS and ABC coverage of the John Lewis funeral. I have not read his final op-ed piece in the New York Times I took the time whether or not I really had it and I do take time for a variety of things that perhaps I really do not have time for because if I can spare the time they form part of the life and function of citizenship. I did not really follow the life of John Lewis all that closely — although I was aware of him always for most of my life. He featured in the book Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63 by Taylor Branch which I read in graduate school and still find prominently displayed on my bookshelf. Lewis with his very strong regional and ethnic accents was also articulate. It is said that in his backpack which was worn along with his trench coat on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on what is called Bloody Sunday he had the books Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton and American Political Tradition by Hofstadter and both of those books have been on my shelves most of the time in my life when I had the opportunity to put up book shelves. John Lewis was a Christian and that was evident in the service. It was also a time when while watching them I remembered vaguely what I once knew of his imitation of King’s techniques, his friendship with James Lawson, his involvement with the Albany Nine, his connection with the SNCC and the SCLC his voter registration work and his work to create an African American History and Culture Museum . I do not feel very connected to Lewis but I can see his life’s work laid across time and space and making America different. His view of the Beloved Community were not always in sync with my own views of a more perfect union.
I am not a man likely to remember all of the John Lewis legacy over his lifetime without thinking that he did a great deal of harm as well as a good number of good things. But Lewis and I shared a view that the future of America could somehow be bright and better. We also shared a view that it could be a good country for Black Americans and White Americans. It would take more than a little lying to make it seem that we agreed about a great deal about the paths and results of a more perfect union being created. James Lawson in his eulogy spoke about how John Lewis called what others called the Civil Rights Movement the Nonviolent Movement of America. There are many fragments of stories associated with this man and now his era is ending. But like me, John Lewis never served in the uniformed services of his country. Like me there is that missing element of clear life risking service in combat under a flag of this country, but despite the gaps both of us could claim to stand for an American future. However he has of course had a very much more successful path than I have had.
I chose to take the time to watch the funeral and I can question whether I could afford to take the time. I cut the grass in one of the two yards I take care of this morning, rejoicing that the ground was dry enough. I am scheduled to cut the other yard when the housekeeper comes tomorrow. I try to get out of her way in my small apartment by cutting the grass and doing yardwork when she comes. This is a challenging time and there are things which affect my life which I cannot effectively engage with in these days and in the times that I have. I am glad that I got my money back which was taken from my bank through Facebook this summer or without those $1300, my work and life would be more difficult than they are right now. But it is a burden to have to have shut off that account and I have many other burdens to deal with in a life that is far from a rousing status of success and inspiring life for my nieces and nephews to imitate. I suppose that this allows me a little more liberty to think about other issues that affect the country and the world. But perhaps I still cannot afford all the indulgences of the mind and eye which I choose to allow myself in theses days.
John Lewis made an appearance in the Black Lives Matter movement and has been involved in many liberal movements over many years. But what we face today is an America which is not a place without racial conflict and outrageous conflicts. It is not an America without problems that are not being addressed.
But although it is an America with problems and potential in black and white it is still America. All the tensions are there but there is also hope for an America that can offer a better future for all Americans.