Cities of Sorrow

November 26th, 2014
I slept the least last night so far. Maybe due to a cup of Earl Gray in the early afternoon. Or the decaff coffee after dinner. Or the wine bought by the man who shared our table. Or the billions of bumps and bangs and big sways back and forth in the upper berth. Or the announcement last night that there was to be no indictment of the white police officer who had shot an unarmed young black man a few months ago in Ferguson, a suburb of Saint Louis, where we are going to spend a night.

I am grateful for Saint Louis at 7:30 am. I am grateful this stretch was only half as long as the first stretch on the train. The sun rises over the Mississippi River as the car comes to life with those waking to get off with us. There is construction equipment parked all along the river, optimistic in readiness to build something.

This river, wide and deep and dark and running almost the entire north-south distance of the country, was about as different as I could imagine from the river of my home city. Yet this river spoke to me of my own history. The Mississippi River divided east from west … my first life from my second.

Today this river, deceptively strong with a quick current hidden beneath the smooth surface, is the perfect metaphor for the disquiet happening in Ferguson and in cities across the country. The Mississippi River, its surface glinting in the sun, collects the treasures and detritus of half our nation’s surface waters to sweep them out to sea. Its course is constant but ever so slightly moving over time, tracing the future that we help steer it towards.

Saint Louis downtown is desolate as we visit the old train station across from our hotel.

“Is it always this quiet?” I ask the two women at the information booth at the shopping center that had taken up residency in the repurposed station.

“Oh no,” one says. “It’s usually crowded … everyone is just staying home today.”

“No matter how you look at it, it’s a sad situation,” the other woman says.

Saint Louis, Oakland, New York, Philadelphia … I receive updates in the news and via Facebook showing so many across the country feel the same way. No matter how you look at it, it really is a sad situation.