It is Wednesday at 5am and my husband Jon is already talking. In whole, long sentences. I wait for him to take a breath, then I slink out of bed, as usual, to make coffee. It appears to be a wifely, domestic chore but really, it’s my escape to six minutes of solitude. But on this morning neither the quiet, the sun rising on the water, the rooster’s crow from the farm across the creek, or the gentle putt of a crabbing boat’s departure fail to clear the swirl of smoke over my head. My mid-week slump settles over me like skunk mist. These are the stay-at-home days when I am irritable and inconsolable.
Exercise often eases my angst, so I put on my Asics and trot out for a run. I chat with neighbors. I ogle dogs. I arrive home feeling a bit lighter. Still there is an inexplicable foggy residue. Perhaps some downward dog breathing and stretching will loosen this grip of grayness. I grab my yoga mat, my mediation book and my glasses, then head to our rickety dock, confident that this next act will sun salutate me through the wet blanket of my isolated mascara-less existence. Striding down the three deck steps toward the pavers which lead to the rear gate, I am closer to recovery. My glance falls to the ground, off to the left, and there alongside a large decorative rock is a thick, slimy snake.
I reverse scream, (which is when you suck in air loudly, rather than expel it) run back into the house, drag Jon from the shower to the window and yell “LOOKIT!” I Google “Maryland snakes.”
What is it doing here?
But I already know.
It is here for brunch.
On the Sunday before, we’d returned from a three-day weekend of hiking and relaxing in western Maryland. We’d let Lillian and Delilah out of the car so I could lead them into the yard. I’d swung the gate open, and there feasting in our bird feeder, were two fat rats. My reverse scream almost sucked my husband’s hair off.
Now, there is a reptile, one which must be permitted to sunbathe, thrive and dine in our beautiful rose bushed and mulched yard—our sanctuary, our COVID safe place, our stay-at-home get-away. I want to throw up.
My refuge is ruined. I can no longer read, lounge, sip coffee, watch my dogs frolic or do anything which requires me to close my eyes, in my own back yard. I am vigilant. I am anxious. I am jittery. I am scared to death of bird feed.
I am uncomfortable.
And then I think: is this what they are talking about? Are there people in this country, black people, who always feel this way, this wary, this edgy, just walking around?
I happen to be reading a book of Rebecca Solnit’s essays right now. She says, “Comfort is often a code word for the right to be unaware, the right to have no twinges of one’s conscience, no reminders of suffering, the right to be a ‘we’ whose benefits are not limited by the needs and rights of any ‘them.’”
We’ve called an exterminator to rid ourselves of our temporary discomfort. The snake will politely dab at his lips with his napkin and leave on his own. Good snake. But what can I do to help exterminate the discomfort I may cause others?
My long-time friend, Greg, who is black, referred me to Emmanuel Acho’s new video series, “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man.” (@thEMANacho)
Acho says we white people are the ones who have to solve the problem.
Greg suggested I start by engaging in uncomfortable conversations with my fellow white folks. I began with a family member. Yep. It was uncomfortable. It gave me the willies. Was it as bad as rats and snakes in the yard? Nope. And I think it was the right thing to do.
I understand that my duty as a very white chick is to listen. But I’ve also decided to borrow the TSA motto, See Something, Say Something, (they’re not using it much right now anyway) and when I see something that is clearly hurtful to others, especially to black people, I’m going to say something—without being righteous or indignant. I’d like to simply make a point. Do I think my comments will change anything? No. Not singularly. But it’s possible that others might join in. Then it’s a chorus, and then it’s a song. And maybe not everyone’s singing but deep below the skin, there’s a vibe and everyone just might nod along.