November 1, 2005

I’ve never had very many heroes, mostly because I prefer people in the round, with all their imperfections on display, and also because I think hero worship has been a scourge on humanity and on the earth. But ever since I first read about the life of Rosa Parks, almost twenty years ago in the one women’s studies course I managed to take at college, I have felt a deep reverence for her. She is a model not only of courage in rebellion against an oppressive social order, but also of consciousness and selflessness. The criticism sometimes heard – that the homage paid to Parks is somehow unjustified, because some other folks before her displayed similar courage in defying segregation – misses the point, I think. That one, spur-of-the-moment yet fully prepared-for act will earn her an immortal mention in the chronicles of our would-be civilization, but it does neither her nor us any good if we fail to learn from it.

“I Shall Not Be Moved,” they sang. Rosa Parks–followed quickly by leaders in the anti-segregation movement, and soon thereafter by the entire African-American population of Montgomery, Alabama–found and occupied the unmoving pivot-point of a great lever. In her own words,

People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.

I daresay she would have little use for us now, scrambling for appropriate adjectives in our efforts to eulogize her. How silly of me, the tears welling up last week when I heard about her passing, and now again as I read excerpts from the speeches given in her honor as she lay in state under the Capitol rotunda. Try and live a worthy life yourself, she’d probably say, with a hint of exasperation. But these tears aren’t really for you, Ms. Parks. They’re for us.

by Dave Bonta of Via Negativa

Categories: Change and Continuity Tags:
  1. November 1, 2005 at 2:18 pm

    Well thought, well said.

  2. November 1, 2005 at 6:36 pm

    ‘Try and live a worthy life yourself, she’d probably say, with a hint of exasperation.’

    i can hear that.

    thanks, dave

  3. November 1, 2005 at 7:41 pm

    What always impressed me about the woman was how UNimpressed she was with with herself. Quiet dignity is the phrase that comes to mind, and there’s not nearly enough of that around. You managed to capture that without sentimentality or excess. Great piece.

  4. November 1, 2005 at 7:57 pm

    Three times bowing down & gently touching my forehead to the cool wood of the floor.

    Not a gesture either of you would use, or maybe appreciate, but the natural one to me. You’ll know how to translate.

  5. Bill
    November 2, 2005 at 8:22 am

    When I heard of her passing I played
    Lightly in the notion of joining her.

    I rose from my life
    To a spreading plane
    Without shadow or

  6. Bill
    November 2, 2005 at 8:36 am

    Forgetful of what I owe.

  7. November 2, 2005 at 10:52 am

    Well put, Dave. Now if we can only remember the lesson…. I’m not optimistic, but that doesn’t take any shine off Rosa’s moment.

  8. November 3, 2005 at 6:08 pm

    Thanks for the comments. I glad this rang true.

    “Quiet dignity” – yes.

    Nice poem, Bill: somehow the abstraction still works for me.

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