FALMOUTH — Years ago, when our children were younger, I volunteered to coach their soccer teams. I remember the fall’s cool evenings when we gathered at community parks and had our kids as young as 6 or 7 chase the ball. At times, I felt like a baby sitter. Once we started the practice, the aggressive kids, impatient to learn the sport’s intricacies, would get the ball, kicking it far away from the field we were assigned to, running after it and getting further away from the very goalposts they were to defend or score in. As I ran after them, calling them to come back I was mindful of the few teary-eyed younger players left behind feeling unhappy for missing the chance to have the ball. Every now and then I sat with a player to tend to their boo-boos.

But there was one tradition that I admired the most: The moment a player, whether from the same or the opposite team, was down because of a fall or a push, the very same kids who had fought and yelled at each other all along would kneel, waiting respectfully and silently for the signal to start again. It was magical! I thought of the kids’ soccer tradition recently, when I marched in support of Black Lives Matter, in Portland. Since most marchers were dressed in black and were wearing masks, we resembled a group of mourners, which we were, paying homage to the nation’s Black victims of police brutality.

We had marched peacefully through a few streets, with staff from one open business offering free bottles of water to the marchers, when the group paused and kneeled. As my aging knees sighed, I imagined George Floyd, who had died face down in a street in Minneapolis, with a police officer’s knee, packed heavy with the load of 400 years of oppression, pressing on his neck and silencing his cries. I thought in keeping with the soccer tradition, we were pausing and taking a knee to show our respect to a fallen fellow team member, for he had been one of us. The hard surface of Commercial Street, where we lay down to re-enact the last 8-plus minutes of George Floyd’s life, felt warm and sacred, like the stone flooring of an ancient shrine. The normally noisy street was quiet, its silence broken by the sound of chatty sparrows. We waited respectfully before starting to march again.

America has interesting traditions. Some, like volunteering or giving generously, are honorable. A few are barbaric. Lynching Black people was once a common practice in some parts of the U.S., sanctioned by society. Families with children would come to watch. We have come to tolerate school shootings and police brutality as normal. America is complicated. It puts more people in prison than any other country in the world yet makes room for immigrants and civic engagement. Fighting for social justice is a cherished tradition in America.

Maine has a rich history of community organizing and social action involving the young and old. Samantha Smith, the 13-year-old peace activist, gained fame beyond Maine for writing a letter to the leader of the Soviet Union during the Cold War era. Gerald E. Talbot, Maine’s civil rights leader, has fought discrimination in its every form. And the tradition continues. Today’s young people march, shout with a closed fist in the air, kneel and perform die-ins to help us dream of a better America. We have left them with a broken world that they are trying to repair.

It is said America is a work in progress. Far from being completed, it needs rebooting now and then. Now in the absence of a national “coach” to take care of a nation that feels wounded, to offer encouraging words and compassion and tend to those bruised, we are left on our own, to pause and kneel. And we shall do so out of love and compassion, to ensure Team America has a chance to succeed.


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