Hands raised are now a world-wide protest symbol.
The hands raised refer to the accounts that Michael Brown was surrendering to police officer Darren Wilson before Brown was shot in Ferguson, Missouri, in August of this year.
But the hands that inspire me are those that, as Khalil Gibran said, are working to make love visible.
They are the hands of people who have grasped shovels and trash bags as they cleaned glass broken and buildings charred by fires set the night it was announced that Wilson would not face charges. They are the hands of artists who decorated boards placed over business windows shattered in my old neighborhood of Tower Grove South. They are the hands of those who created fund raising campaigns to help these small business owners with expenses insurance may not cover. And they are the hands that clasp in prayer, or reach across traditional boundaries of race and class, as we struggle to move forward together.
Because those hands are the ones that make faith and love visible. Those hands are the ones that will heal. Those hands, those gestures, are the only ones that have given me hope. Those are the hands of heroes.
It’s too early to say whether the protests that started in August, continued through the fall and then flared with rage in November will mark the beginning of a new civil rights movement. It’s too early to say whether the shoppers whose Black Friday trips were shortened by the die-in protests will begin to think with compassion about the lives being lived so differently from their own just a few miles to the east. So far, most of the commentary I have overheard at the grocery store and the nail salon as I got ready for a Thanksgiving trip, or at the brunch table and the airport during this holiday weekend, has not been sympathetic.
If the goal of the demonstrators is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, to paraphrase St. Louis Post-Dispatch founder Joseph Pulizter, mission accomplished.
I don’t know of any social change movement that waited until all circumstances were perfect, and those who held power offered a hand up without prompting. That isn’t the way things work.
I wonder, as I listen to those around me, how this tide will flow. Shakespeare wrote in Julius Caesar:
There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves
Or lose our ventures.
Clearly those who are marching from Ferguson through rural Missouri to its capitol think they are seizing such a flood tide of change. Maybe those who serve up ugly racial stereotypes with the brunch mimosas also recognize the flood, and use their hostile words like sandbags on a levee to turn it back.
I have lived near the Mississippi most of my life. I understand floods. I know that when there’s enough hard rain, the river rises. And sometimes, not all the helping hands in the world could fill enough sandbags to keep the floodwaters from washing cities away.
It’s too early to say how this will play out.
But it’s not too early to reach out, grab a shovel or a paintbrush or a credit card, and make things better. It’s never too early or too late to fold hands in prayer and ask for guidance from the Divine or one’s own inner wisdom. And it’s never the wrong time to reach across a divide and humbly ask how to help close it.
It’s never too early, or too late, for hope.