I have mixed feelings about yesterday’s conviction of Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd. While I think justice was served (who could think otherwise, having seen the video of Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s neck?), I am conflicted by that very thought. I “think” the jury made the right decision, but I did not hear all the arguments presented by both sides in the trial. My sense of justice is no doubt colored by the symbolism of a White cop deliberately pinning a Black man on the ground; under the White cop’s knee, no less. I had decided, before the jury even heard the opening arguments in the case, that Chauvin was guilty. Now that the jury’s verdict has validated my personal sense of vigilante justice, I feel vindicated. I suspect my satisfaction with the jury’s decision was influenced by my belief that the jury “finally got it right” by convicting a White police officer who, in the line of duty, murdered a Black man. Again, though, I do not know all the facts in all the cases. My strong belief that systemic racism frequently plays a part in the terrible outcomes of engagements between White officers and Black suspects seems to override another strong belief. That the justice system, not I, should be allowed to make the final call. But the justice system seems to be even more imbued with systemic racism than other elements of our social structure. Conflicted. That word keeps coming back to me. The definition of justice depends on which part of the spectrum of “justice” is most visible; the point at which truth prevails or the dark places where truth is hidden, supplanted by lies masquerading as facts?
I spent a fair amount of time writing, reviewing, and rewriting the paragraph above. It’s still not satisfactory; I left out too much of what I wanted to say because the paragraph would have grown to the size of a novel. Finally, though, I abandoned the effort because I realize my thoughts on the issue do not matter; not in the overall scheme of things. Whether John Swinburn thinks justice was served is irrelevant; and so is the fact that he saw fit to write about his perspective. Too often, I mistake my perspectives about matters of substance for contributions to broader understanding. Until my perspectives shape others’ viewpoints, my unique take on issues is no more important than the diameter of a particular mosquito’s right front leg.
One of those rare, fragmentary memories I have of my childhood involves looking through the eyepiece of a microscope. The microscope belonged to me, though I do not recall how I came to have it; my parents, I assume, bought it for me. Looking through that microscope was like entering an utterly enchanting world. I examined blood cells and human hairs and salt crystals and who know how many hundreds or thousands of other fascinating things. There was a trick, as I recall, to placing objects between glass slides before viewing the objects. I think the top piece of glass was placed at the end of the bottom piece, then slid over. But memory tells me that wasn’t always the proper way, because some objects or materials would slide to the edge of the bottom slide as the top slide slid over it. I must have been eight or ten years old when I got my first microscope. I think I had more than one over the years. I have no memory of what happened to them. I suspect I simply tired of using them and they collected dust in the closet until someone—me, my parents?—discarded them or gave them away to friends or donated them to a school. I wish I had access to a microscope now, though I have no idea what I would use it for. Maybe it would serve only to trigger memories. Or maybe it would languish in a closet, the way the better of my cameras has done.
Only recently have I returned to my daily practice of thumbing through my precious little book, The Essence of Zen: An Anthology of Quotations, every morning. I used to go to it each day before I began to write. Reading random quotations seemed to help calm the start of the day just a little. I’m trying to get back into the practice. I am rediscovering how it can arrange my thoughts so they are aligned with an objective of achieving at least a taste of tranquility. I should have read this one before I began writing this morning:
What a delight it is
When I blow away the ash,
To watch the crimson
Of the glowing fire
And hear the water boil.
As I contemplate the words I’ve just typed, it occurs to me that I do not need others to think about me or to give priority to my comfort or happiness. I need only to take comfort in the little things that serve as my protective cocoon.
These lyrics came to mind, just now, from Father and Son, by Cat Stevens,
But take your time, think a lot
Think of everything you’ve got
For you will still be here tomorrow
But your dreams may not