Archives for posts with tag: Virginia

A cloudy Saturday afternoon in January 2017 at the University of Virginia. A friend and I show up at a hastily organized march in response to Trump’s latest executive order, a cruel, poorly conceived attempt to ban Muslim immigrants from entering–or re-entering–the U.S.

After listening to rousing speeches by several young women and men, we make our way from the Rotunda down the Lawn. Students yell, “Show me what democracy looks like!” Crowd of 600 or so responds, “This is what democracy looks like!” I notice all the bright signs and the rushed, charming ones scrawled on brown cardboard.

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We continue toward Old Cabell Hall. Baby in stroller gets an early taste of peaceful assembly.

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The crowd rounds the corner and heads toward the walkway in front of Bryan Hall. “No hate, no fear!” A few tears sliding down my face, I feel moved by the occasion but also, truth be told, a little nervous. This is the closest I’ve ever come to being part of a mob. Pressed together, yelling, hearts pumping–what are we capable of?

And what about those young white men with their arms crossed, standing on the steps of Old Cabell and smirking at us? What are they thinking? What are they capable of? If one of them yelled a slur at this group, would I stay silent? Would I join in a loud chant of rebuke? But they don’t yell; they just stand on the steps and watch us go by.

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In front of Small Library, home of several extremely rare copies of the Declaration of Independence, a student stops and asks me, “Is this an anti-Trump rally?” “No,” I say, “it’s more of a pro-immigrant rally.” “Great!” she says and goes on her way.

It occurs to me yet again that some UVa students have no idea what’s going on at their own school. There was a time when they all would have known this march was happening because they would’ve read an announcement about it in the Cavalier Daily. But the CD is no longer a daily, and I rarely see students reading it. It is available on the web, of course, but who has time for that when you have Facebook and Twitter to wade through? This is a problem at lots of universities, not just UVa. The absence of objective print journalism by and for college students is an example of what democracy doesn’t look like.

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As I look out at the people milling around as the march winds down, I think about Thomas Jefferson. A genius, a complicated man not without flaws. Today, though, I think particularly about his “Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom.” It is relevant to our current president’s not-so-veiled attempt to keep out immigrants who practice the Muslim faith.

“Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom” speaks across generations in Jefferson’s characteristic language of cool, eloquent reason. This is what democracy is:

… Be it enacted by General Assembly that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities. –excerpted from “Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom” by Thomas Jefferson

 

On a country road not far from where I live, there’s a house I never notice except in the spring. Dozens of daffodils press against the front of this ragged little place. It looks abandoned, but the daffodils couldn’t care less. They are wildly happy the way daffodils always are, their gold faces drinking in the sun and sky.

Who planted them, I wonder, and when?

I dial back the years to 1950 or so and picture a young woman in calico with an apron full of bulbs. She kneels down in the light of a breezy September morning and gets to work. As her trowel pierces the red-clay earth, she thinks about her ailing mom or her husband’s upcoming birthday or a poem she would like to write if she can ever find time. She drops in the first bulb and keeps going down the row.

“I’ll have these to look at in the spring,” she tells herself.

She is sturdy and strong. A week after planting the bulbs, she learns she’s pregnant with her first child. The joy she feels flows out of her hands and hair and into the air around the little house. When the daffodils bloom, she is nearly eight months pregnant, big and round and eager to get on with things. Bending down to gather a bouquet, she laughs at herself when she nearly topples over.

The bulbs will replicate over time. She and her husband will have four babies in seven years; three will survive. The name of the oldest, the one growing inside her while she planted those bulbs, will be etched on a shining wall in Washington, D.C.

When the news of her son’s death arrives, the woman will be living far from the daffodils. She will be separated from her husband, angry at the world. It will be ages before she can laugh again.

But the time comes when the tight petals of her heart slowly open. She takes night classes, has grandchildren, helps a fragile friend. The years drift by.

One day a nurse at the doctor’s office comments on the beauty of her eyes and gives her hand a reassuring squeeze. She goes home, takes off her glasses, looks in the mirror: her eyes are as blue as the sky above Rapidan, Virginia.

It’s been a long time since she thought of that place. Something comes to her–a flickering of light, a rush of gold. Wasn’t there a poem she always meant to write, a few things she really wanted to say? She had meant to say them all these years.

The telephone rings: her granddaughter, on her way to take her to lunch.

She smooths her hair and sits down to wait. Outside the high windows of her apartment, a hawk flies by. It is a clear, calm day. The kitchen clock ticks. She rummages around in her purse for the notepad she uses for her grocery list.

The buzzer sounds just as she writes a single word, followed by a year. “It’s a beginning,” she thinks as she stands up and hurries to answer the door.

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A torn flag hangs
From the balcony of a two-story
Shack; fields of corn give way

To huge piles of trees, abandoned
Bulldozers. The prison looks
Magnificently calm.

At nightfall my heart goes
With the Crescent trundling souls
South to New Orleans.

My breath goes with
The deer filling my windshield.
We live live live live

What greater news than survival
On this road or any road
Taking each of us past

A few small graveyards
The smell of fertilizer
The shriek of a train.

–Hilary Holladay
Rt. 615 toward Culpeper

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