Most mornings, I wake up at about 4:30. My first thoughts are usually some work thing I’m fretting over. If I can’t get back to sleep, I pick up a book. Right now I’m reading The Sword and the Shield, which is about Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. It’s a fascinating book. The premise is that Malcolm was not quite as radical as his reputation and Dr. King was more radical than his reputation. It’s important to recall that King found it very difficult to get traction here in Dallas, and he was opposed by everyone in power.
I remember hearing Peter Johnson say that when he got to Dallas, in 1967, it reminded him of Mississippi in the ’50s. I was really happy to see Peter recently. I asked him about what he thought about what is going on in the country, and he told me that his friend Ralph Abernathy told him the hope was in the young people who would one day be in charge. I so agree with that. All of the millennials and Gen Z I know are all about changing the world. And that gives me genuine hope.
After some reading, I get out of bed about 5:15. I put water on the stove to make a pot of Cultivar Coffee in my French press. I arrange a travel mug for my pack, a cup for the car, and fill a water flask with chilled water. I make my lunch for the office (grilled chicken breasts on flour tortilla with some awesome TREX Pickles from the Farmers Market). I put all that in my daypack and head down 635 toward 175.
This week, I put on Justin Townes Earle, Steve Earle’s son, named after Townes Van Zandt. Justin died last month, much too young. Each morning before going to the office, I do a 2-mile walk on the AT&T Trail at Trinity River Audubon. When I started hiking this stretch of paved trail in June, it was immersed in the songs of Painted and Indigo Buntings and Dickcissels. It was really therapeutic to start my day with birdsong.
I’ve been starting my walks in the dark so I’ve really enjoyed seeing constellations, as the skies are pretty dark there. On my recent hike, there was some cloud cover. As I walked, however, the clouds parted, and I could see a brilliant Venus in the east. The Greeks called this the Morning Star: Phosphorus (Greek Φωσφόρος Phōsphoros). The only sound was the dull roar of traffic on I-45 a few miles away and the cicadas. As more clouds dissipated, I could see Orion’s belt. My favorite constellation is the Pleiades, which are directly above Orion. I used my binoculars to see them. Also known as the Seven Sisters, “The Pleiades are the seven daughters of the Titan god Atlas and the ocean nymph Pleione. During an ancient war, Atlas rebelled against Zeus, the king of the gods, who sentenced his foe to forever hold up the heavens on his shoulders. The sisters were so sad that Zeus allowed them a place in the sky in order to be close to their father.” I just like them because they are hard to see with the naked eye and with binoculars they are really a pretty cluster of stars. In Japan they are called Suburu, which explains the automaker’s star logo.
I walked in dark to the pedestrian bridge over the river. As I walked, I thought about work and what we are doing right now. I was really pleased to see our team by D Magazine in the August Best of Big D Heroes Edition. My social services team has adapted very quickly to meeting the needs of our clients. We have handed out thousands of dollars in toiletries, emergency grocery cards, groceries, and rent assistance. I’m very thankful that the city of Dallas chose us among other nonprofits to administer emergency rental assistance. The city has been great to work with and very helpful in getting this aid into the hands of people facing evictions. I was also very happy to see Mark Melton recognized as a hero for his work in assembling a team of lawyers to assist people facing eviction.
As the sun came up and the sky lightened, I walked to a bench and sat to watch the sun rise and to read a Psalm, and journal. I reflected on just how difficult this season of life is. Leading during this pandemic and the simultaneous assault on our clients’ rights is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And, to be honest, I’m tired. I haven’t had a vacation day since December. But I’m thankful to have a job, especially now. I know it is much harder for those of you who are parents. I can only imagine what it is like to try to set up Zoom meetings and assist your school-age kids with their homework. My wife, Jill, is a school teacher, and she sees very clearly the result of inequity in the resources that some children have in accessing their education.
I finished and started walking back to the car. Most of the ponds are dry, but there’s a small pond holding water. I have paused there for the last few days to watch a family of Black Bellied Whistling Ducks. They are beautiful ducks, with striking reddish beaks. It has been fun watching the ducklings grow. This is the extreme northern range for these Ducks, which migrate to Mexico for the winter. They return in the summers, apparently unaware of borders or walls. Hence the expression “lucky duck.” On this morning, a Little Blue Heron landed next to them. I watched them with my binoculars, and then a second Little Blue Heron landed. Both Herons lifted off and flew over my head. I made my way to the car, watching the sun as it turned the sky pinkish. I started driving to my office and turned back on Justin Townes Earle.
So God grant me speed and grant me forgiveness
And carry me on through the night
Take me through the hills and over your rivers
Away from this awful fight
The sun was shining high over the Trinity as I crossed it driving toward downtown, and I’d be in the office by 7:30, ready to fight another day.