“Grandma, what do you think of…?” This is how most conversations began with my 99 year old grandmother. Alert and thoughtful, she read the newspaper every day until the day she died.
I wish I could ask her now, “Grandma, what do you think of what happened to George Floyd?”
“Grandma, what do you think of what the President did in front of the church?”
“Grandma, what do you think of the protests?”
“Grandma, what do you think of the curfew?”
Grandma died on May 16, weeks before the brutal police murder of George Floyd. One of the last questions I asked her was, “Grandma, what do you think of the Coronavirus?”
She said, “It’s hard to believe it’s real. You look outside and you can’t see it.”
But now I wonder what she would say about a different virus, a more deadly virus that’s been infecting people for more than 500 years. Anti-black racism is the deadliest virus to infect the soul of this nation. We cannot build immunity to it. It continues to kill black and brown people while sickening the souls of white people. Racism is our nation’s original sin.
When Grandma suddenly fell seriously ill, we prepared for her to have a good death. To protect the health and safety of family members from contracting COVID19, we limited the number of family who could be present at her bedside.
Before her death, I led prayers for the dying on Facetime. I guided Grandma’s first born, my mother, in anointing her with oil, making a sign of the cross on her forehead. Spiritually, I was present and in the room with Grandma. A couple of days later, she died peacefully in her sleep at home.
As a local pastor, when I called my Grandma she always asked how things were going at the church. She’d listen closely and then say, “don’t work too hard.” My church last worshipped in-person on March 8, and since then has become an online church. I did not leave my house, apart from neighborhood walks, for almost three months.
When it came time for Grandma’s graveside memorial service our family decided to limit the number of people. We didn’t want to contribute to the spread of COVID19. Again, I stayed home and joined the family using Facetime to offer a scripture reading and prayer.
COVID19 kept me physically away from Grandma in her time of dying and in our family’s time of grieving her death. Mourning the death of a loved one is an emotional, spiritual and physical experience. Even though we are physically distant, our bodies still grieve, even when alone.
Just days after Grandma’s graveside service, George Floyd was killed. A call to action went out to all local pastors where I live in Indianapolis. Come protest. Wear a mask. I looked away.
I didn’t want to contract COVID19. I didn’t want to be a spreader. After three months of saying no to leaving the house, how could I change my mind now?
I got a direct message. Then I got a text. Then I got another text. Come. Are you coming? Black and white women clergy friends wanted to know. Can we count on you? Will you join us?
“Grandma, who art in heaven, what should I do?”
What a hypocrite to leave my house now! Why didn’t I go out then, if I am thinking about going out now? What has changed?
I went to God in prayer, “O Holy One, show me. Help me. What should I do?”
I wanted to go to Grandma’s bedside. I wanted to go to Grandma’s graveside. But I knew I could not.
I did not want to go to the protest. I did not want to be exposed to COVID19. But I knew I had to go.
Black lives matter.
Prayer changed me. In prayer, God guided my steps. God said to go.
With God’s help, I do what I cannot do alone.
With God’s help, I go to places I fear.
With God’s help, I speak when I have no words.
With God’s help, I give my life.
Leaving my house during the global pandemic in order to join hundreds of strangers to protest was an act of rebellion. I did not want to do it. But I had to do it. I did not want to go. But I had to go.
While the threat of COVID19 is very real and deadly, the threat of anti-black racism remains the greatest threat to the lives of white, black and brown people. Until we eradicate this vitriolic virus, we will continue to spread the virus for generations to come.
“Grandma, who art in heaven, what do you think?”
A respected and beloved family member contacted me after seeing my social media post about attending the clergy protest at the Indiana State House. She rightly questioned my logic. How, she asked, could I go to be with thousands of people, yet I wouldn’t come to be with family at a time of our greatest need?
Millions of people are taking to the streets across the world peacefully protesting. COVID19 is still a threat. Health experts predict a surge of COVID19 illnesses and deaths from these super spreader events.
Yet, for us all to stay safe and stay healthy at home is not safe or healthy at all. Not really. How safe and healthy is it to continue to live in a nation where the anti-black racism virus has nearly a 100% infection rate among whites?
In a global pandemic, people are risking their lives fighting the deadliest virus of all time. We are concocting the vaccine together, in our bodies, in our cries, in our protests. In the streets and in the voting booth, there is hope for eradicating the deadliest virus.
“Grandma, who art in heaven, what do you think?”
“Go. Wear a mask. Stay physically distanced if you can. I couldn’t believe in the coronavirus because I couldn’t see it. But this virus you are fighting I’ve seen my whole life. Go and do your part to stop it.”