Silence and Kindness in the Wake of #Ferguson

The snow came on a Wednesday after the grand jury decision, and brought with it a bit of welcomed quiet on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. Yet the very constant and often charged chatter in my newsfeeds remained as loud as ever.

At times like these, social media seems anything but social. That place where I go for mindless entertainment, to catch up on the lives of friends, to give my thumbs up for birthdays and anniversaries, to commiserate about Taylor Swift’s 1989 album suddenly becoming the soundtrack to my daily goings-on thanks to my nine-year-old…that place has looked a lot different. And I don’t always like what I see.

St. Louis is my home, always has been. I do not live in the Ferguson area, but it is the place where my mom grew up, where I still have family and friends. Once upon a time, my husband and I were so charmed with the historic old houses and the sense of community that we considered living there. So it could have been my home. And even if it couldn’t have been, it is still a part of the city I love with a prideful fire. It is surreal to see it on this worldwide stage. Usually, the world pretty much ignores St. Louis, unless it’s the baseball post-season. Even then, it’s not like we’re the Yankees.

Every part of what is now just known as #Ferguson is a tragedy. Loss of life, loss of community, loss of businesses, loss of reputation, loss of faith. It has become something bigger than me, bigger than all of us, and represents many different struggles I often sadly feel are so far from ever being resolved. All I have to do is look at any one of my social media feeds to have that sense of hopelessness driven home. So many people seem so sure about so many things, and so sure there is no room to consider alternatives. Too many people are using blatant, disgusting, and unapologetic tongues of hate. Yet there are just as many people speaking under the guise of progress and righteousness whose underlying messages are no better. Both kinds incite anger, obstinance, and widen the divide.

And then there are those who are quiet. I wonder most about those who are quiet. Some may accuse them of being too cowardly to speak out…or not willing to stir a pot that needs to be stirred…or guilty of that horrid disease known as apathy. Make a difference, silent ones. Choose a side. 

But then I wonder, what if we were all quiet? Not forever. Just for a moment. Long enough to take it all in. Long in enough to block out what everyone else is saying, and simply listen to ourselves. Long enough to consider things another way, without the fear of being judged, or accused of being a traitor, or having to do that awful thing of publicly swallowing our pride to admit someone else might be right.

It is what my friend, who is a social justice teacher, called the spirituality of silence; the idea that truth, understanding, and enlightenment come to us only when we can really quiet ourselves. For some, we are listening for God. For others, it may be whatever inner beliefs guide our sense of righteousness. And often, in that silence, we can find there are truths on all sides. Only in recognizing that can we then successfully work toward justice.

Once words are out there, they are out there forever. We live in a society that encourages, almost demands, immediate reactions. Thomas Merton, a 20th century Trappist monk, once wrote,

“There are many declarations made only because we think other people are expecting us to make them.  The silence of God should teach us when to speak and when not to speak.  But we cannot bear the thought of that silence, lest it cost us the trust and respect of men.”

After the grand jury decision, I felt paralyzed by those expectations. Everyone is posting about it. I should be posting about it. Maybe people think I don’t care. Does my silence speak louder than any words I might say? But I don’t know what to post.

All I did know was that I felt a lot of uncertainty. What’s more, my immediate reaction after the announcement of the grand jury decision looked different than my reaction did the next morning, which looked different from my reaction the next day. Only in my silence could I really see that, understand why that was so, and figure out what that meant for going forward.

So I remain quiet. But please don’t mistake silence for apathy. I am listening. I am deciding what I can do to make things better. I may not have taken to my blog, or to Facebook, or to Twitter, like so many others. But I can tell you what I did do. I smiled at everyone I locked eyes with that day after the grand jury decision. I was more patient behind the wheel. I said thank you a whole lot more. Regardless of how I feel about the events in #Ferguson, I know things are broken in ways that seem too big for me to fix. But for now, I can do my part by being kind, by teaching my children to be kind, and by speaking the language of peace. Those things are contagious. We all know they are.

I will continue to be heartbroken that my city has become the poster-child-of-the-moment for so much of what is wrong with our country. But in my core, I know how many smiled back at me the other day. I see the countless stories of selfless people helping the city of Ferguson rebuild. I am aware there are good citizens organizing groups and coalitions to strengthen our communities and promote peace. I know that what they show on the television is not the whole story. For now, that has to be enough for me, regardless of what I read in my Facebook feed.

People like Jessica Townes and her kindness cards have to be enough for me as well. Jessica posted this on Facebook, and it made its way to me through a friend:

“…for those of you looking for an action piece and don’t know where to start, consider any small act of kindness today. The city is hurting, and moreover, individual lives and struggles continue on. People still have to deal with sick parents, troubled children, job loss, and all of the other trials of daily life. Whether your act is directed at first responders or protestors or a random person on the street, there is little chance the recipient could not use a little extra kindness today.”fergusonkindness

However you feel about #Ferguson, maybe step away from your newsfeeds for awhile to do an act of kindness or two…and do it for someone unlikely, someone outside of your comfort zone.

After all, which of these things is more likely to inspire you to have faith in humanity: a 140 character tweet or a stranger paying for your coffee?

At some point, the snow must melt, and it will be left to all of us to create that sense of calm and peace.


 A special thanks to my friend John Powell, for teaching me about the spirituality of silence, and to Jessica Townes, for creating the kindness cards and allowing me to share them. You can visit them on their respective blogs, brokenfishblog and On This New Morning…


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