The morning of the race was the sticky hot that reminded me of Houston in August. Think: running a half marathon in a steam room with 13,000 people. I never thought of not running because of (1) the 150.00 fee for the privilege of running down the street so hell no I’m not going back to bed, and (2) a masochistic streak I’ve been cultivating over four decades.
I elbowed my way to my starting corral, fine-tuning my running mix and arranging my energy gels in my pocket. I was focused on me, myself, and I.
The temperature soared over 80 degrees at 6:15 a.m.. Houston in late July.
I saw a downed runner at mile eight just past an aid station. Someone in an official-looking red vest (Red Cross?—did I really pay to participate in an event where the Red Cross was called in?) was putting an ice pack on the woman’s neck. I didn’t stop because … well, I didn’t have a red vest. The overheated runner was in good hands. I wondered where her people were. Was she alone? That must be scary.
At miles ten and eleven, where the unshaded white concrete shimmered in the heat, I saw two more runners down. One was being dragged over to a shady spot on King Drive; the other was sitting on a curb with cheeks the color of stop signs. No red vests in sight. Still I didn’t stop. The litany in my head: I’m not a doctor; I don’t have any water; and I was voted the person most likely to hide in a closet and binge on Dorito’s during a crisis.
No, they were better off without me.
Half a mile from the end, after an uphill on a particularly punishing stretch, I saw another runner down. This guy—a kid, actually—was out cold. Right as I approached, someone hooked their hands under his arm pits and lifted him up. If you would have told me he was dead, I would have believed it. He was surrounded by four people. Maybe five.
You know I didn’t stop. After I passed him, I saw his running mentor, someone I actually know well, racing against the tide of finishers lurching toward their post-race Gatorade. The panic look on his face said it all.
It was an emergency.
I didn’t stop.
I keep replaying that morning and my inexcusable inaction. “I’m a mother, for God’s sake. If I don’t stop, who will? One of them was just a kid.”
I’ve blogged about so many things over the years, most of them trivial, vain, absurd, obscure, or flat-out ridiculous. I’ve never once blogged about race. It’s the most glaring hallmark of my white privilege. I’ve let other bloggers cover Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Jr., Tanisha Anderson, Akai Gurley, Rumain Brisbon, Tony Robinson, Jordan Davis. There are others. Sadly, we know there will be more.
Am I really about to pass Sandra (Sandy) Bland, like a downed runner who’s not my responsibility?
No, I’m not. No more focusing on the finish line while other people around me are perishing. No more hiding behind feeble, “I’ve got nothing to offer” excuses. No more criticizing Lena Dunham for saying so little about race, while churning out another blog post about Willie Nelson. No more forwarding other #BlackLivesMatter posts on Facebook without generating any of my own.
She was all alone in a jail cell in Texas, about to start a new job as a student ambassador at Prairie View A&M. Something about the promise of her working with young students tears me up. I can’t bear the thought of leaving her by the side of the road for someone else to pick on the pages of her blog. Roxanne Gay wrote that “we all should [feel this tragedy in the marrow of our bones], regardless of the identities we inhabit.”
I’m scared to fuck up being an ally. But I’m in the comfort of my air-conditioned home; Ms. Bland was all by herself staring down a man acting under the color of (Texas) state law who was goading her. Hers was real, life-and-death terror. I’ll never know what that feels like, which is exactly why I must give my own anxiety the finger and step up.
This is my start. This is my fumbling over to a critical situation saying, “I’m here. I’m engaged. I’m educating myself. I’m an ally.”
Because Sandra Bland’s life matters. #BlackLivesMatter