Today is my 64th birthday. Like most leaders in our country right now, I haven’t been sleeping well. I wake up at about 3 a.m. thinking about where to source hand sanitizer and how to keep our agency going through both a pandemic and the white nationalist agenda of our government. Fun times. So I was up really early Monday and decided to head right out to hike, hoping to catch the sunrise.
Driving down to the river, I listened to an Avett Brothers song:
When the sun hangs low in the west
And the light in my chest
Won’t be kept held at bay any longer
When the jealousy fades away
And it’s ash and dust for cash and lust
And it’s just hallelujah
And love in thoughts and love in the words
Love in the songs they sing in the church
And no hard feelings
Lord knows they haven’t done
Much good for anyone
Good lyrics to start the day.
All week I’ve been hiking the AT&T Trail at Trinity River Audubon. I picked it because someone mentioned all the birds they’d seen last this weekend. So I went for a beautiful rainy hike there on Monday. I normally don’t hike there because it’s all concrete, but I made an exception and I’m glad I did.
I parked in an empty parking lot and started walking. I was immediately immersed in a chorus of birdsong. Mostly, there were the competing calls of the Dickcissels. It’s a beautiful, colorful bird, with pretty yellow breeding plumage, and the song is lovely. Competing were the songs of Indigo Buntings. I saw several perched high in willows along the trail, their brilliant blue color visible in even the early morning light. I’ve kept coming back all week, because it starts my day out splendidly walking in the cool morning air and being surrounded by birdsong.
I’m now back to coming into the office every day. Today I put on a tie for the first time in two and a half months because we’re doing a Facebook Live panel discussion about what is going on in the immigration world. Check it out on our Facebook page. Most of our staff are still working remotely, other than as needed for client meetings. Many of us have had to come in multiple times during the quarantine. Court hearings are still scheduled, and the government continues to generate notices and requests for evidence on our cases. And our heroic social services director comes in every week to give out toiletries, food, and grocery cards.
This has been a heavy week. Of course, since I’m writing about birdwatching, I’m thinking of the now infamous video of Christian Cooper’s encounter with the racist woman in Central Park. That was happening as we were all still thinking of the tragic death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. It has pained me to see the comments of all my friends who are persons of color. They are afraid and fed up with the violence and the constant threats to their dignity.
As a white cis-gender man, I’m at the pinnacle of privilege. So I’ve thought a lot about that and what I can do as an ally. I was born in 1956 in Mobile, Alabama, into a racist and segregated environment. I was immersed in white supremacist ideology. And I’ve been working since I was about 12 to overcome that. But the big mistake I think most of us white progressives make is to think you have this figured out, that we are beyond these biases. I’m still confronting that and seeking to overcome it. I have, of course, done lots of reading on the topic. I highly recommend White Fragility. And Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist. One specific thing I do: I will never again let a racist comment pass without comment. And I’m still thinking about how else I can be a useful friend and ally to communities of color. Another step I’m taking: I am calling out the immigration policies of this government as white nationalist and racist. This is not simply policy difference, it is racism. I mean “We should have more people from Norway” tells you everything you need to know.
So, given all the heaviness, I was happy to get in a hike before heading into the office. I walked through the fields listening to birdsong and seeking to be happy in the moment, not thinking about what was coming for the rest of the day. I crossed the Trinity River on the pedestrian bridge, pausing to listen to the rushing water from the river, which was swollen with rain. I walked under towering Pecans that grace this part of the trail, noticing the climbing vines of Virginia Creeper and Wild Grape. And I pulled down some limbs of Mulberry Trees and ate some of the ripe fruit, mostly cause it’s fun.
I made my way to a bend in the river, where the trail comes close, walked across dewy grass, and sat, watching the river in the flood stage. I was surrounded by a carpet of Prairie Coneflower. I pulled out my journal and Psalm and watched as the rising sun lit the eastern sky. I read this lament:
Look and see, there is no one at my right hand;
no one is concerned for me.
I have no refuge;
no one cares for my life.
I reflected on how that is not true for me at all. I have many people at my right hand — especially the 14 strong, capable women who I have the privilege to lead at Human Rights Initiative. They continue to do battle every single day during a pandemic to fight for our clients. I have such gratitude that I am able to work with such inspiring women (and our inspiring volunteers). Right now, lawyers continue to do pro bono work. Right now, volunteer translators do rush translations. Right now, doctors are doing phone examinations for reports for our clients. And, of course, I have a beautiful and supportive wife and children. So I’m thankful I have many people at my right hand. I’m a fortunate man.
I had a last sip of coffee, packed my daypack, and headed back to the car. After walking about a mile, I heard the song of a Painted Bunting, my favorite bird to see. I put up my binoculars and saw it sitting on the top of a tree singing its little heart out. If I’m not mistaken, it sounded a little like “Happy Birthday.”