It’s the silence that gets me. Five hours of bellowing oratory, heart-saturated song, weeping and hand clapping, Amen! and Say-so! . . . all curling up into one round, reverberating moment of silence. President Obama stands at the podium after delivering an irreplaceable gift to the world, and holds the silence in his hands. In that silence, I feel the day stand still.
I feel the searing sun on my skin as we inch toward the stadium door, rivulets pooling in my clothes, until the elegant woman behind me fetches a napkin with which to dab myself. (“Your back", she said with pity, "is a catastrophe.”) A choir on the street sways in swelling sounds of gospel, security dogs prowl, SWAT teams swarm the roofs, limousines weave through the crowds, dignitaries dot the streets, Red Cross distributes water, stretchers rescue the faint. . .
In that silence, I look again at the long graying braids of the man in front of me who has flown with his lovely wife from Chicago this very morning to bear witness to the moment. I remember how kindly they welcomed us, strangers, to join them behind the choir and podium. I see how the back of his hand kerchiefs his eyes, spilling-over in the silence, and notice how tender is his strong face.
I feel the presence of my friend sitting beside me, who is both black and gay, as we wait for the service to begin, our phones secreting in breaking-down-the-door news: the Supreme Court decides to honor his right to love as he chooses, and in that choosing, to cross over the threshold into marriage.
I feel the reverberations of the choir’s pulsating beat still alive in the silence, having spent themselves in five hours of strapping choral communion; and the vigor of their choir director’s hand to heaven which flutters, all 46 fingers, urging out of their voices a more lush and prodigal sound than they knew possible.
I feel the laughter of Reverend Middleton, recalling his jaunty early days with Clementa Pinckney. I feel the imprint of bold preaching, the regal purple frocks of bishops. I feel the small hands of little Eliana reach for her widowed mother, her poised older sister quietly absorbing the shock waves by herself. I see MLKIII and Jesse and Al, Hilary and Nikki and all who had come to get down on their knees before these families.
In those long seconds of silence, the day gathers itself as a ball of light. I am pulsing with it, so alive it is, here in this circle made strong by these families, this congregation. We’ve had no food for hours now, nor water, only fed, high in these bleachers, by love. I want the moment to go on and on.
And then, out of that silence, I hear a lone word emerge. . . Amazing. Our president’s voice, tremulous now, and real, breaks into song. Yes, that is what was living in the silence, in the day, in the heart. . . our amazement. And from amazement . . . grace, erupting like a fountain from which we all can taste hope. The bishops (ah!) break out in joy, the organist slips imaginatively into the tune, the people jump to their feet and unleash their voices, the whole of us there and around the world ride on that moment into a grace that showers us with the possible. I am on my feet again, the silence gives way to song and movement and, even in the darkest places, joy.
I think that I will always carry with me that stadium full of silence, pulsing and alive, expectant, possible. It is seared into me like the sun. And what can I ever hope to do with the rest of my life, but live it out? This light in the heart of darkness. This amazement. This stunning grace.
All the best,
Susan Hull Walker