Making peace (signs)

The first day I went to Chicago and 38th—the site where George Floyd was killed—I didn’t bring my cameras. I went to see it, to be in the space, to bear witness and to learn.

As I walked toward the site, I passed a lilac bush toward the end of its bloom. Light purple blossoms covered the ground and I bent down to gather a few handfuls and filled my pockets.

At the very spot where George Floyd’s life had ended, a small memorial was taking shape. A few hand lettered signs, a bouquet of black balloons and a collection of people like me, gathered around.

I knelt at the site and sprinkled the lilac petals on the asphalt, and nudged them into the shape of a peace sign.

It didn’t take long. I knew it wouldn’t last. But it has become a ritual I’ve repeated at sites across the country that are in need of healing. It’s an act of acknowledgement, of bearing witness. It’s a meditation of recognizing the pain that has happened at that place and a commitment to work toward something better.

We have built peace signs at the 9/11 memorial, Kent State University and the site where Emmet Till’s lynched body washed up on the shores of the Tallahatchie River.

I also build peace signs in places of beauty, where I slow down and feel connected to the earth.  In the shallows of a remote alpine lake, on the sand at the edge of the sea, across a harvested field at our rural Wisconsin farm.

The Inuit have traditionally piled stones in the rough shape of humans as landmarks to show the way, or to commemorate a site. In their sparsely populated landscape, I always imagined them to say, “Someone has passed this way before…you are not alone.”

The peace signs are my Inukshuks. My effort to mark the way. A sign that someone has passed this way before and you are not alone.

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