Gather Ye Roses

I don’t know who started it, who put the word out, how it spread.

One night there were ten. The next night, fifteen. It grew quickly from there. Twenty or thirty of them would gather in the commons area, and seconds before the start of the game, they’d file in. Black sweatshirts, black jackets, black jeans, black shoes. Black baseball caps if they had them. They sat together in the bleachers, spreading across the rows, like a swarm of something new and different on the roses.

When they came in, the hair stood up on our arms. We got that rollercoaster feeling in our stomachs. We were fidgety, our eyes on the crowd. Were they getting it? Were they feeling it, too? We wanted to sit next to them. We weren’t wearing black, but we wanted the proximity to its quiet roar. We encouraged them. Yes, do it again. Next week, and the week after. Keep doing it. The crowd sees. They’re all mesmerized, frozen.  Behold the thrill of solidarity, we thought. The fierce love. Only they—and by association we—are clever enough and brave enough to assemble and to love like this.

It happened all season. Maybe we won because of it. And then it just stopped, the way those things do. The initial high wears off. The original reason fades. The weather turns warmer. Any old reason.

I remember that feeling in the drum circle at college. The children of ancestors, there on our campus, beating the drum, calling out with voices as rich as the earth, and those of us who had joined them spontaneously moving in slow rhythm around them. Drawn in as if by a rushing tide. Wanting to touch them, to soak into our skin something of what they knew, to hear forever their sounds. People stopped to watch for awhile. Those in a hurry hurried less, eyes on us, wondering. Someone from the school paper snapped our picture. We were a part of it. The pictures would prove it forever, even after the rhythm of the moment seeped from our bones.

I feel it now, like a small earthquake in my gut, when I see protests, movements, crowds pressing forward, the impassioned faces of those who know something that I don’t. Yes, gather, do it again, I say inside my heart. I feel it when I see whirling dervishes. When the Man burns. When universal truth brings a hush to the room. When stories are recalled of the 1960s and all that was at stake. When there is an exchange of words between open minds. When reverence emanates from the click of polished boots at a diplomat’s funeral. When the wall fell. When the square erupted. When the park filled. When, despite everything, the women and men walked on. When the brave soul stood alone. When I turn off the television and go outside and look at the horizon. When all of this happens, whether someone is there to record it or not.

Small earthquakes, again and again, when people do what they can do, when they create in singular purpose, when that purpose doesn’t come from personal motivation, but in spite of it. When the thought floats in, light as a silk thread: “We made it all up.” Small earthquakes, because no one alive can take away the agency of another. No one alive can wrestle to the floor and snuff out the light. Or call the poet a criminal. Or shut down the inner mind. Or make one to follow when there is another path.

Distractions abound. Motivations shift. Reason eludes. Emotions roil. Games get played. Humanity is trapped, caught, faced with its own hypocrisy, with the fruits of its most fearful labor. Faced with repeating history. With giving the worst it has to offer. Shamed, stunned, angry, unable to understand its own compulsions. Time and again. Time and again.

And time and again, someone dons the black shirt and walks out the door and goes forward down the street, with love, to meet the others.

May we meet again in 2016…