Standing on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, traffic carumps over the worn joints behind us while our Apricot poodle gazes over the muddy water of the Alabama river. I don’t think she understands what happened here, and if you weren’t actually standing there- with the working class landscape of Selma at your back, and the hungry violent eyes in front of you, you don’t know either. You might know the events of the day, or the legacy burnished by a thousand speeches straining to claim some ownership of that sacrifice, but you don’t know what happened. You don’t know what you ate for breakfast, or tried to eat but only staring, unable to eat for the fear in your stomach before you got up with your empty belly and put on your coat, and walked out over the water with nowhere to run and the certainty that your ears would ring with fractures and the bile in your gut would run in viscous rivulets into the blood of your girlfriend beside you. Stunned and feeling failure, you would be driven back to Selma that night, where soothing hands would care for you while you moaned. A song played on the radio, Come See About Me by the Supremes, climbing towards number 1 on the Billboard charts.
Forty-nine years later, Happy rules the airwaves, by Pharrel Williams. Someone came and saw about him back in 1965 and now people dance to his song in Syria, Ukraine, the West Bank, and among the ruins of Cadiz City. What is more non-violent than dancing? So the struggle continues, and right now marchers are massing to get their skulls cracked somewhere.
Straight from Selma, AL to Lloyd, FL we drove to sit at a table last weekend and listen to a 40 year love story celebrating our neighbors Judy and Betsy. Old friends and like us, new friends shared stories. I had to laugh as I listened to stories from a family about a family. Love has been made, children have been raised who now raise children, and refrigerators have been carried upstairs on wobbly feminist legs without the aid of men. In spite of all efforts to stop it, full and rich lives are lived in the absence of rights, so getting such rights will not signal a beginning of a new way of life, but a promise to do better by future generations and an apology for all the skulls cracked along the way.
But for us and our poodle? Our symbolic walk to the middle of the Edmund Pettus bridge was just a moment in a sanguinely beautiful day in the Black Belt of Alabama, following an evening of gin and tonics at the St. James Hotel. We laughed with another couple our age that night about the insanity of Alabama football while we ate catfish and french fries. Turn Your Love Around, by George Benson played through the bar, out the french doors and into the night air where the melody was lost in the turbulence of all that heavy water flowing beneath that bridge.