There are places I remember all my life
Lennon and McCartney got that right.
But there are also people I remember. And moments.
Moments I will remember as long as memory lasts. Moments that not only fill my mind as memories. Moments that fill my soul and spirit as the sights, sounds, feelings wash over me as though the moment had never ended.
The births of my sons.
The death of my father.
The murders of John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Bobby Kennedy.
The fall of the Berlin Wall.
The release of Nelson Mandela.
Tonight I wept as I relieved such a moment.
I finally watched Lee Daniels’ The Butler. I had not seen it in the theater, but I added it to my Netflix list and it arrived this week.
The film provides much to ponder. Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan? Seriously?
The scene that touched me came near the end.
Cecil Gaines, played by Forest Whitaker, has retired from his position as a butler at the White House. He has reconciled with his son, Louis, played by David Oyelowo. His wife, Gloria, played by Oprah Winfrey, has died.
Cecil and Louis are in his house on November 4, 2008. The votes in the Presidential election are being counted. As the moment nears when the media will declare a winner, Cecil calls his son to come to the living room and watch. Louis arrives in time to see history happen.
As the newscaster in the film announces Barack Obama’s election as President of the United States of America, I found myself transported back to the night it happened. And I wept.
I wept in joy at Barack Obama’s victory. At progress made. At hopes realized. At the possibilities before us then and now.
I wept in sorrow at how much work remains to achieve racial justice. At the oppression, discrimination, and injustices my sisters and brothers endure.
I wept in frustration at shortcomings and failings of President Obama’s administration to meet the expectations of the moment. At potential unfulfilled.
But most of all, I wept remembering my friend Merdine T. Morris. Shortly after the media announced Barack Obama’s election, I called Merdine T. Together we laughed and cried and prayed.
The film scene transported me through space and time and as I heard again the joy and hope and pride and concern Merdine T. expressed that night.
Merdine T. recognized the historic significance of President Obama’s election. She also understood the arduous work that lay ahead for him and for our country as we continue to come to terms with the racism and other systems of oppression and discrimination dividing us. Merdine T. knew first-hand racism’s bitter sting and enduring power. She knew Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. personally as our mutual friend Carol reminded me. She knew hopes shattered and dreams, not only deferred, but devastated. She knew the tears that water and the blood that mark the road to justice.
But Merdine T. Morris never gave up. She held to faith. She held to hope. She held to love.
And so I wept tonight because Merdine T. and her husband Luke trusted me and were my friends, because Merdine T. and Luke welcomed me with grace, because Merdine T. and Luke accompany me in the Communion of Saints, because, to paraphrase Bruce Springsteen, writing about another unforgettable moment:
Her strength gives me strength
Her faith gives me faith
Her hope gives me hope
Her love gives me love
Tonight I wept in gratitude. And my tears were good.
See you along the Trail.