January Hope

Fri, 01/20/2023 - 4:30pm

There is something about the world through the lens of a rearview mirror that I love. Last Saturday I remembered to go to the gas station — I long ago decided, probably after missing a seasonal shift — that the station always closes at 1:30 and is never open on Sunday. And I don’t have to consider the possibility of shortened Monday-holiday hours.
Four cars is hardly a traffic catastrophe, four cars does not a traffic jam make even on a January day on Block Island, on a January Saturday when it seems everyone who lives here has gone off and anyone who has come certainly came with a full tank, but then the weather has cancelled trips so who knows? And I try not to let the little warning light come on, especially after pulling in as the blue covers come down over the pumps because there is just no gas left and the tank truck isn’t coming until Tuesday night.
I had forgotten on Friday so made myself a note to leave on my desk, a simple GET GAS scrawled on the back of an envelope containing one of those solicitations trying to prompt a donation through guilt, the gift of return address labels, and convenience, a self-addressed envelope, and more nuanced, layered guilt, “no postage necessary,” but in the other corner, where the neat little address label would go, a note: “Your first-class stamp will save us much-needed funds. Thanks!”
Oh my gosh, in summer do people sit in standby with their air-conditioning on and arrive with less than full tanks? The things we think of in winter.
It doesn’t look like a traffic jam but I thought it interesting that every car had its tank on the same side, which led to my putting the photo on social media with such a notation. People are funny, some immediately complain about the
configuration of the station, lamenting it is unlike any on the mainland, which makes me think of the late Norris Pike and someone who had been here a few weeks making the mistake of offering that on the-mainland-rationale for doing something Norris wasn’t particularly interested in doing before that red flag was waved.
“So?” Dramatic half-beat pause. “Isn’t going to happen.” It was like President Bartlet on West Wing asking “What’s next?” The conversation was over.
To his credit, Norris could turn on a dime and if he saw or read of something that worked on the mainland, that he thought we should try, he’d be the first to suggest it. Then the conversation turned to the day the plane slammed into the gas station, one of Block Island’s “where were you when...” moments.
Several years ago — recent history seems increasingly marked by “well, it was before Covid” — I saw the film “Selma” on a Friday night at Harbor Church.
It opens, as anyone who saw it will recall, with a flashback to Birmingham, Alabama just a couple of years earlier, flashes of white dresses of girls dressed for church, I think running up stairs, talking more than they should have been, a scene familiar to anyone who was a girl in Sunday School all those years ago. Today it would be a terrorist attack, a hate crime, and I wonder if we did ourselves an injustice according such crimes a special status, does someone who blows up people deserve any rank beyond murderer?
It might not have been the right year or the right city but I imagine much of the audience knew what was going to happen next, the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church that killed four girls. It wasn’t the first such assault but
it resonated. I know I did not learn of it from history books, I was already in junior high and that history would not be in books before I graduated, but I lived in a house where the national nightly news was always on, in the black and white we see in clips from that era.
It was September, in November a president would be assassinated, two years later the hard-fought Civil Rights Voting Act would be signed by another president.
It is that clip, those seconds of screen time that so triggered a memory that I have thought of this past week in the days on either side of the holiday honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is supposed to be a day of service,
and the news highlighted those places it was that, and tried valiantly to find achievements.
There was so much that happened in the late 1950s and 1960s, all these horrific events that put the nation on a cycle of hope and despair and, again, hope. We were living history, real history came on the front pages of the daily newspapers that most households still received, it blazed in color on the covers of weekly news magazines. I used to love the immediacy of news on the internet, the ability to pull up so many outlets and read stories almost as they were written.
What moments will there be that become so ingrained in memory? Will 40- odd years from now the 2015 shootings in the church in Charleston, South Carolina even be recalled? How many now remember the extraordinary forgiveness
the families of the slain showed the shooter? Again employing some alchemy by which they turned despair into hope and against all odds and every detour a steadfast hope that the arc of the moral universe will bend toward justice.