This is the impromptu evolving memorial for George Floyd, who was murdered by a police officer in full view of a gathered crowd a week ago. It has since been referred to as a sacred place, and I think I know why It goes far beyond the death of one man. Those who point to ways in which his behavior was not perfect miss the point of why people are sanctifying the place he died. In a way, this isn’t even about him. Years from now, it may be hard for many to recall his name.
They will remember that horrific image of the officer with his knee to a man’s neck as he pleaded that he couldn’t breathe, and maybe remember how a man in his forties called for his mother with his last strength to cry out. But most important, they will remember what broke in them that day, and what new revelations came pouring out. That is what renders this place sacred.
Most definitions of “sacred” are related to specific religious traditions, but Satish Kumar, former monk, peace and environmental activist, goes beyond that. He says that a place important to a community can aid us in reaching out to something bigger than that community—something divine, however one may understand that. A sacred place, therefore, is one that draws individuals into a commonality that fosters, to use a hackneyed phrase, a vision of the bigger picture.
I said earlier that this isn’t about George Floyd. I didn’t mean to minimize the fact that a particular human being died. It is certainly about George Floyd for George Floyd and his family. But Floyd’s death is really about all of those countless hearts and minds that saw as a result of his death what it means to live without privilege in an America that has been sold to us as exceptional. In this idealized America, everyone is privileged. This America is good enough the way it is. This America is threatened and confused by demands that it do more than tinker at the edges to make it better. With his death, important ideals that privileged Americans like myself comfortably espouse as being “the American Way” collide head on with other Americans’ reality in a manner that, once seen, cannot be unseen. This new vision requires action in order to continue to live wth integrity.
This divine spark tells us to rise up, that we are bigger and better than the lives we have been living. Resistance to this change will be swift, enduring, and brutal. No one ever said a life lived with integrity will be without its challenges and losses. A sacred place marking such a painful time can serve as a way of remembering to stay strong because the change will be worth it.
One has to earn the privilege of laying flowers on this site. Whether the crowds at protests will ever visit the spot that generated this awakening, it is sacred to them Sacred to us. Sacred to me.