I woke this morning as I have lately, with a keen interest in reviewing the latest developments in national news. Often it feels like an endless state of revelation, but not of the transcendent, life-affirming variety. Some days I take a break in the interest of self-preservation but today I wheeled through my Twitter feed to see what had transpired while I slept. I did not expect to stumble across a speech that would hold me enthralled,but that’s what happened as I listened to the Mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu. He explained the rationale for removing four Civil War statues in that city. There I sat, stock still, listening with rapt attention to the tiny screen in my hand while tears welled in the corners of my eyes, my heart quickening as the oratory soared.
So what was it that touched me so profoundly? First, as someone who appreciates the English language and who revels in listening to the great speeches of history, I loved the way it entered my ear. Smooth like melodious music that lifts me up to a crescendo then sets me gently back on earth in a state of rapture.
Second, in the gritty, punctuated haste of the days we are enduring, the call to our high ideals has been supplanted by an unrelenting and pedestrian airing of grievances. Listening to the speech I realized just how much I long to be inspired by the narrative of my nation where we celebrate the righteous fight for justice and equality. We are not perfect, but in our best moments we are a people determined to right our wrongs. That’s what Mayor Landrieu was getting at, with great fervor, from the podium. While there has been loud opposition by those who wish to preserve the monuments to the Confederate soldiers they see as fallen heroes, no matter how inglorious or injurious to the living, there are others just as intent on building- as Dr. King named it, “the beloved community.” In that vision the voices of all people matter. It's become ever more clear that until we reconcile our past, represented in this moment by these monuments, we cannot make real progress together. Taking the monuments down surely does not erase or sanitize history; it simply acknowledges that the future need not be encumbered by it.
As Maya Angelou famously said, “When you know better, you do better.” Striving to see the world through the eyes of our neighbors, especially those who are anxious, vulnerable, and oppressed allows us to know them better. When we bridge the gap that separates us from others we begin to find the type of communion that nourishes us, anchors us to our humanity, and enlivens our communities. Inevitably we find again and again, that we are better together.
With stunning conviction, Mayor Landrieu urged his fellow New Orleanians: ”So now is the time to come together and heal and focus on our larger task. Not only building new symbols, but making this city a beautiful manifestation of what is possible and what we as a people can become.” May the spirit embodied by his words float like music and encircle this globe. May a vision of unity and compassion guided by a deep and unfaltering wisdom guide us through whatever dark days may lie ahead. Our story is still being written, let it be one we can be proud to claim for generations to come.