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The Cost of Compartments

The Summer of 2020 seems like ages ago, especially for those of us who have no daily reminders of how painful it was to watch cities burn and the social fabric of a nation erupt in division. In truth, it wasn’t very long ago at all. I don’t know about you, but part of how I coped with everything that I saw and experienced during that time was through compartmentalization. I allowed myself to feel the emotion of it, but only to a point. When it became too painful, I would shut it off and put it in the compartment labeled, “I’ll deal with this later.” We were in the midst of a developing pandemic in which there were so few answers and more questions every day. On top of the steadily climbing COVID casualty count was the social and political unrest of a country boiling with unresolved racial tension and partisan political battles. It was an unprecedented time, and no one knew what was ahead.

As soon as I climbed into the car to be a part of yesterday’s pilgrimage to George Floyd Square in Minneapolis, I unknowingly opened the, “I’ll deal with this later” compartment. We were halfway there when the pain and sadness of that Summer resurfaced. I spent the next few hours sorting through it all with quiet tears and mourning as I walked through the sacred space of the makeshift memorial. After a while, I was struck with how much of a luxury it was for me to have the option, both to be there and to deal with my issues. Here I was, processing my pain in a neighborhood that I probably wouldn’t have been in before the murder of George Floyd. Another window into my white privilege opened and I felt the tone of my mourning change. What I was dealing with suddenly felt shallow and eclipsed by something much deeper.

At George Floyd Square, I saw a startling wound on humanity that has been transformed into a memorial of protest, prophecy, and beauty. My personal pain wasn’t diminished, but rather joined to a common pain and put into perspective. This memorial is ground zero for a movement full of people who have no other choice but to fight for their own survival because they have been and continue to be compartmentalized by the society in which they live. Those compartments have labels like “Your life doesn’t matter,” “You aren’t part of the whole,” and even, “You aren’t human.” Few words adequately describe the atmosphere in George Floyd Square. “Holy” is a good start. “Disquieting” is another. If you get a chance, make this pilgrimage. Stand where it happened. Visit the many Black and Brown-owned businesses that have sprung up in the neighborhood as it experiences a bittersweet renewal due to the increased foot traffic. Find your own words to deal with those things you aren’t even aware that you don’t know. It’s time to empty those compartments.

Written by the Rev. David Chatel

Member of the Commission on Racial Justice & Reconciliation

Rector of St. Paul's Chapel, Magnolia Springs


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