Friday night, I was antsy because I hadn’t yet been to a protest of the latest round of white supremacist police brutality so I decided to head down to Jackson Square. I’ve been to quite a few protests in Jackson Square in the French Quarter of New Orleans in the past six years. Usually we fill up the steps in front of the Washington Artillery Park across Decatur Street from Jackson Square itself. This time, the entire square was filled, so the crowd was about twenty times larger than usual.
When I was preparing to go to the protest, I had all these fantasies in my head about doing something significant there. Maybe there would be a lull in the chants while we’re marching and I would start singing one of the twenty plus songs I’ve written in the past six months. I was trying to decide whether or not to take the giant feather that I received mysteriously at a shamanic ceremony last weekend.
I haven’t quite understood what I’m supposed to do with my new feather. Is it magic? If the police started firing teargas, would my feather suddenly become the elder wand that gave me the power to go off on the cops? I decided against taking the feather because I’m paranoid about being accused of cultural appropriation. I wore my clergy collared shirt because protests are the one occasion when I do that.
I went by myself and felt really lonely and bored when I got there. The speeches seemed a bit redundant. I really wanted to have the spiritual experience of marching and chanting with such a large group of people. There was a local art gallery that was letting people use the bathroom, so since I’m shitting about every thirty minutes these days, I went there to use the facilities. I happened to run into a former student who had come there with her friends for the same purpose.
I made a comment about getting tired of all the speeches and wanting to march. And then I got schooled by a 25 year old woman. She said why are you bored of the speeches, is it because you want to be the one giving speeches? (She didn’t exactly say that but that’s what God said when she said what she said.) Urgh. She managed to throw a dart right into the center of my heart. And so I spent the next hour pouting about how utterly irrelevant I am.
It’s true. The young folks have this one figured out. They don’t need me to teach them anything. I don’t really have anything to contribute other than to be a body standing and listening to speeches that I’ve heard several hundred times before. But it matters to do that because the people speaking are young people of color. They’re actually leading this movement, at least in New Orleans. I’m sure there’s a protest somewhere where white old men are still in charge, though I have a feeling that doesn’t work so well when the topic is #BlackLivesMatter.
In any case, my spiritual growth challenge for right now is learning to be okay with being irrelevant and not in charge. The best I can do is to be compost for the flowers that need to bloom right now. I’ve been listening to a lot of new music from around the world that’s part of this shamanistic medicine world I got yanked into. And it’s making me realize that the songs I’ve been given are just drops in the ocean. I went over to a friend’s house after I left the protest and he let me teach him one of my songs. That’s all they’re ever going to be, most likely: a hobby that I share with friends.
As one of my last acts of campus ministry recently, I wrote thank you cards for all of my active students over the years and mailed them out. It felt like a generous, magnanimous thing to do, especially for some particular students. I did not realize until I wallowed a little while in self-pity how much I wanted some of my students who don’t seem to like me very much to write me a gushy text message saying they were sorry for being mean to me and how much it meant to receive my blessing and my recognition of their gifts. Out of the 40 or so students I sent cards, I’ve received confirmation from 2 that they received it.
And so I get to be refined into better compost. One day I will actually live purely in gratitude and compassion and I won’t need any validation for what I do or say to encourage others. Compost doesn’t get any fanfare. The flowers are oblivious to it. Because its nourishment happens under the surface. One day I will just want the flowers to bloom gorgeously. I will love them entirely for their sake and not care about whether they tell me I made a difference in their lives or not. One day.