The George Floyd’s have been with us forever
In the time that it takes your eyes to register these words, or the image above, the present is over — now becomes the past. As my fingers pick carefully at the letters on the keyboard, the time it takes for me to see the conveyed-images puts this action too, snugly into a past — an iota of a sliver of time (a nanosecond or two). The present hardly exists because in the time it takes for us to realize it, for the firing synapses to burn a contextualization of now into our mind’s eye, we are, again, eased into the past.
Brian Greene in The Fabric of the Cosmos calls reality “slices of time,” freeze-framed images we are capable of assessing visually and intellectually. These frozen moments are our “now” siphoning off rapidly to the past, ever making way for the flow of a “new” now, a present which is really already the past. Confusing, indeed. Add motion and differing speeds and the “now” becomes even more ambiguous between the receivers of the racing images.
In my opinion, this is an inaccurate way to depict the present. It focuses on the receiving of light, the formation of image as if we were only receptors — walking retinas. “Reality,” the one on which time is spent escaping, altering and seeking to make better for loved ones and worse for our enemies, pertains more precisely to the ingestion of feelings. Anyone who has ever suffered a heartbreak can surely agree that when lost, deep beneath the moldy blanket of sadness, it is not image that sustains us, or lack thereof (loved one not sleeping next to us) but the ache of something so much deeper, something so much more…real. The now is that pain (or joy), processed light and slices of time be damned.
The hurt of these feelings overcomes us and the “image-laden” present can even become altered due the weightiness of these feelings. In time, however, like the unsightly wine stain on an intricately-woven table-cloth, the shadows of the past droplets fade, become a part of the cloth; and, the hostess soon learns how to situate plates and other dinner-table accouterments to conceal the former cause of so much dismay. The stain remains and becomes part of the lore, the past now, the now for the future, a story — some harm, some foul, a story nonetheless.
America never seems to let that stain of racist hate blend into the meshing fibers, being but not being, concealing itself but ever whispering don’t forget to be attentive when pouring: I am still your beautiful tablecloth, once the pride and joy of your now, if ever so briefly, and your table will always need to be set.
Feelings and Sensibilities are a lasting Present
The hanging of a “random” black man — someone’s son, brother, father and friend — is a sight most won’t forget. It would have invoked joy in some white people and sadness and shame in others. I can’t imagine how black Americans feel but I am sure they are still feeling this horror, this indignation. We don’t see our fellow black countrymen being hanged for crimes like wanting to vote, wanting to sit at lunch counters or even for marrying white women anymore; but this does not mean that the feelings that empowered our past, that made our former, fellow and ignorant countrymen once relevant are no longer with us.
I am not a cosmologist or a physicist but as a human I get feelings. Feelings are the great unknown that makes me believe a divine being did create us, perhaps in some act as forgettable as a breathe blowing across an open hand, scattering our galaxy thousands of millions of years in all sort of directions, unrestricted by dimensions we cannot even fathom — but its the feelings that make us so complicated, so special, so permanent entitling us to a significant part of the real now.
The parents of the four little girls blown up Birmingham, Alabama while attending Sunday school in 1963 conveyed their feelings of despair and heartbreak to me, to you, to anyone smart enough — evolved enough — to receive them. I feel them now. Those feelings weren’t of the past; those feelings didn’t just appear like a beam of light and then once blocked by a building or tree vanish. Those feelings happened resulting in a saturation of the now, penetrating it deeply, clinging to and altering everything, forever moving forward.
The emotions, the reactions which cause our feelings are a truer measure of time. Light is simple and easy — it’s here and then it’s not. In some instances, the light from the stars we see in sky was emitted 10,000 years ago. That light was a deep, galactic “now” sharing a a mirror image of now with our earth, also 10,000 years ago. It only reaches us today — go look — and that present is finally catching our present (which is really still the past). But, it’s still just light and so somewhat irrelevant.
When I watch clips of the Twin Towers on 9/11, the way I felt at 8:47 on that day, precisely one minute before the first planes sliced through the metal-carcass of the 77th floor, fills me with a sense that my life consists of two moments: the one before 9/11 and the one after it. If the wrong we have been exacting against black America had been just one, then a clear delineation between before and after would make it easier to assess, to heal our collective wound. The wrong against black America is not one; it is multitudinous and multilayered.
We can’t un-see the murder of George Floyd. We can’t un-see the racial violence perpetrated by whites throughout America, by police shooting black men first and then asking questions — if still alive — later. We can feel that hate, though. When Floyd’s “now moment” sent many of us into a collective rage, it wasn’t the “past” sight of him being so meticulously choked to death that threw us into frenzies of feelings. It was the reattachment of our ongoing now, the lag of feelings, to the past anguish, to the frustration of a million “why’s” that made the now of white, institutional racism against blacks hurt so much. Slices of time from our common “loaf” of time: America’s “all-the-time.”
I am a white man and it sickens me that so many, resembling me, in our country have managed to completely detach the shocking images from the emotions. The instances of our violence, the results of our abject unfairness are really uncomfortable to look at and so we justify them with the incomprehensibility of time. “Time heals,” they say; “We have elected a black president,” they say and so all is okay now. and yet, these same white Americans so ardently nurture the feelings that keep us deep, locked, so entangled in that first moment when our violent shadow, crossing oceans and hacking through forests, found us. The moment when the first whip licked at the air, slicing through time and place, exiting the now and becoming for the gathered and enslaved, America was realized. Always the past, always the now and always the future, we haven’t yet seen the light truly and so this absence of retinal stimuli masks the singeing of the air, in form, like bullets many dare to call patriotism.
We cannot un-see, un-feel the hate or un-do the violence.
We are festering now and we need to properly feel and to make amends. We need to close our eyes and let go because sight has not been a trusted ally, just yet.