All that is impossible and unknowable about this moment

Column by Michael Alcorn
Posted 6/2/20

Once upon a time, I took it upon myself to start writing down phrases and passages from different sources that spoke to me on sticky notes, and placing them around my world. The other day I came …

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All that is impossible and unknowable about this moment

Posted

Once upon a time, I took it upon myself to start writing down phrases and passages from different sources that spoke to me on sticky notes, and placing them around my world. The other day I came across one of them, and it sang to me like it hasn’t in years. It’s from the Old Testament Book of Micah: “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”

Humility is a very difficult quality to come to grips with. And especially in a day and age when we’re told to puff our chest out and let the world see everything we’re doing, when we’ve invented sticks that make it easier to chronicle our latest great outfit or envy-inspiring outing, holding on to an appropriate sense of humility is a challenge, to say the least.

But I believe that humility and wisdom work together, and a wise man once said that “the beginning of wisdom is ‘I don’t know’”. Actually, I think it was Data on Star Trek TNG who said that, who wasn’t a wise man but a cyborg, but, it’s also entirely possible he was quoting somebody else. At any rate, “I don’t know” is at once a powerful statement of humility and the first step on the path of wisdom.

I don’t know what it’s like to grow up in America as a black man.

I don’t know what it’s like to be in fear for anything other than my bank account when I see flashing lights behind me in traffic. Actually, I also have a certain fear of explaining the bank account to a certain wife after that, but that’s a story for another time.

I don’t know what it’s like to leave the house in the morning and kiss my children goodbye, knowing that it might be the last time I ever see them.

I don’t know what it’s like going to work and strapping on Kevlar as part of my uniform.

I don’t know what it’s like to look around a room full of people and realize that I’m the only one who looks the way I do.

I don’t know what it’s like being sent out into the world and being told that my job is to be the one thing standing between good people and chaos and anarchy. To be the sheepdog between the wolves and the sheep.

I don’t know what it’s like being characterized and stigmatized by the worst actions of the worst members of the group who share elements of my appearance.

I don’t know what was going through the mind of Derek Chauvin for nine minutes as he slowly choked the life out of another man. I know even less about what was going through the minds of the other three officers who were on scene and did nothing to de-escalate the situation.

I don’t know if I would have had the courage, as a bystander, to do anything about it.

What I think I might know is this: the good cop and the good black man should be friends, and should be powerful allies. Because they both know what it is to be asked to do the impossible in this world: the cop is asked to safeguard justice in a world without peace, and the black man is asked to behave peacefully in a world built on hundreds of years of injustice.

It’s easy, in the wake of the horrors of the last week, to sit out here in suburbia and tsk tsk, as if we know anything. But a wise person once said “Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” Maybe this week, it might be good to give some thoughts to the people we’ve put in impossible situations, and try to lighten their burdens. Be well and be safe, my friends.

Michael Alcorn is a teacher and writer who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. His new novel, “Charon’s Blade,” is available at Amazon.com, on Kindle, or through MichaelJAlcorn.com.” His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.

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