A few weeks ago, I decided I wanted to go to Ferguson.
Yesterday- thanks to the beautiful weather, spontaneity, GPS, and conveniently low gas prices- I went.
I can't say exactly what made me want to go. I just knew I wanted to be there and breathe the air. I drove around, took some pictures and watched some people. I was a little lost from some of the driving around, so I pulled into a church parking lot to turn around, but the only way to do so was to drive around the entire church. I ended up finding a little white gazebo in the back of the church's parking lot. It was close enough to the road to watch the cars passing by and the folks walking down the sidewalk, but far enough from the road to be quiet and unbothered. I parked my car and sat in the gazebo with my head leaning back, over the railing and my arms stretched across it. The kiss of the sun on my skin was very warm and nurturing, maternal even. The wind felt like silk as it shifted the air gently over my face. The air smelled like Saturday afternoons from my childhood. It was comforting. I sat there for about 45 minutes, thinking and reflecting, trying to figure out exactly why I was there. I waited to see if a stranger might approach me with a life-changing conversation or if I might just hear a subtle whisper in the wind telling me why I was there, but there was nothing. It was just me and the air I'd driven there to breathe.
I left the gazebo and decided to go to the site of Michael Brown's death. I knew I was near the site as I approached an array of stores and businesses which were either closed or appeared to be closed because they were boarded up with plywood as a result of the damages they'd sustained during the rioting. Once I arrived at the site, Canfield Green Apartments, I parked my car in the complex and sat there for a minute before I got out. I was trying to prepare myself for all of the thoughts and feelings which might come from being at there. I got out of the car and the first thing I saw was a string of flags, draped over a bush and around a light pole. The flags, which appeared to have been made by very small children, featured the tracing of a small hand and a message written in the palm area. In the middle of the street, where Michael Brown body had been, was a collection of flowers, photos, stuffed animals, posters, fitted hats and candles. Leading up to the mass memorial, on one side was a single file line of fitted hats and on the other side was a single file line of candles. On the other side of the street was another light pole, this one covered in signs, pictures, stuffed animals and fitted hats. The scene was very solemn with a sense of strength and a longing for peace. The memorial has become a normal part of the neighborhood. I watched every car slow down and pass with care, leaving it uninterrupted. And every pedestrian crossed on either side of the memorial, never over/across it. I looked around the neighborhood. There was nothing special going on, just life on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.
I left the site to look for food. Right up the street, I found a barbecue joint which was all boarded up, but the boards had been spray painted with the message, "YES,WE ARE OPEN!!!". Perfect. I stopped in to get a vegetable plate, which actually ended up being two sides of potato salad and two sides of baked beans (the struggle). I asked the young man who was working, why everything was still boarded up. He said, "Some places are boarded up because they can't afford to get the windows replaced. If you don't have rioters insurance, it's not covered. And other places are still boarded up because we don't know if we've seen the end of the rioting... It's sad because some people were rioting because they were hurt and upset, and others were doing it just to loot, but now businesses like this are suffering. Life goes on, but it's been different around here. Just a couple of days ago, somebody got shot right across the street. That's not normal. We don't have shootings around here. We have traffic tickets, not shootings."
I left with my baked beans and potato salad and went to get gas so I could get back on the road. Gas was $2.68 there, so I was squeezing every last drop I could get my tank to take. I squeezed out the last few pennies of gas I could get, put the nozzle back on the pump and just as I got back into my car, the small voice I'd been waiting hear in the wind came to me and said, "Home." The air I'd gone to Ferguson to breathe, smelled a lot like their air from home. The people I'd watched, looked a lot like the people I'd see at home. The site I'd visited was in the middle of someone's home. When I arrived in Ferguson, I did not want to approach anyone and ask a million questions. I did not want to attend any organized events. This place is people's homes and lives...not a tourist attraction. I was not there to intrude, I was just there to be. And being there, felt a lot like home.