Wednesday afternoon, a friend and I took a walk through Pleasant Gardens Cemetery, the African American burial ground on Missionary Ridge.
At the time, we had no idea of the political violence in Washington.
We walked and talked. Trees, fallen and decaying, covered headstones. A yellow dog came up, sniffed and ran away. The sunken graves of Black Chattanoogans — many buried during segregation — were all around us.
My friend — Black, Christian, so wise — paused.
"Do you think we are nearing the end of America?" he asked. "Are we at the edge? The precipice?"
Miles away in Washington, white men were hanging Confederate flags in the Capitol.
Each morning, I take a series of vows. (Most are broken by breakfast.) They are paraphrased:
Knowing the destructive power of violence, I vow to cultivate nonviolence.
Knowing the destructive power of greed, I vow to cultivate simplicity, gratitude and generosity.
Knowing the destructive power of sexual abuse, I vow to cultivate respect for the human body.
Knowing the destructive power of delusion, I vow to cultivate clear, loving speech and actions.
Knowing the destructive power of confusion, I vow to abstain from that which clouds the mind.
I tell you this not to flaunt, but to confess. These vows are my protection. Without them, I can be reckless. I have tasted blood and known bruises. Hurting others, I hurt myself.
My heart is capable of joining a mob. Change the circumstances, and I would have been in Washington. (An angry, deluded white male? Yes. I have been that.)
In the wake of Wednesday's violence, I offer these vows to you, also.
Were you expecting something else?
Has not everything that needs to be said already been said?
"Love your enemies," said Christ.
"Do not conform to this world," St. Paul wrote, "but be transformed by the renewal of your mind."
"Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as your own thoughts, unguarded," taught the Buddha.
"It is not a romantic matter. It is the unutterable truth: all men are brothers," said James Baldwin.
Violence begins in the mind and heart. Rape, lynching, insurrection — they are born of cultivated internal activity.
What are we cultivating?
What has this president cultivated for the last five years?
Some have said Wednesday's violence was a wake-up call.
I thought George Floyd was our wake-up call.
Or Trayvon Martin.
Or the assassination of Dr. King.
Or Emmett Till.
Or Joseph McCarthy.
Or the Cherokee Removal.
How many more wake-up calls do we need?
There has always been but one question before us.
Are we living in ways that cultivate cruelty, fear, ignorance and greed?
Or are we living in ways that cultivate goodness, sensitivity, community and wisdom?
My friend and I kept walking.
"A nation that built itself off slavery and lies cannot stand," he said. "How could it?"
We reached Ed Johnson's grave. In 1906, a white mob lynched him from the Walnut Street bridge.
On Wednesday in Washington, 115 years later, another white mob hung nooses and gallows.
Finished with our walk, we returned to our cars.
Turned on the radio. Checked our phones.
Heard the news.
The edge. The precipice.
That night, I woke up, unable to sleep.
In my nightmare, the same Washington mob appears in my driveway, at midnight.
I asked another Black friend — a longtime activist and Christian — if she sees the same mob in her nightmare.
"Yes," she said.
Will you believe them now?
About police bias? Double standards? White privilege?
Will you listen to them now?
About kneeling? A place at the table? The dangerous power of unquestioned whiteness?
Everyone involved — from the president to the mob to our representatives, including the shameful Chuck Fleischmann — must be punished.
Not out of rage, but out of clarity.
There will never be any resolve until those responsible are held responsible.
One Trump supporter did not want to watch.
"Turn off the TV," he said.
For too long, I have shut my eyes.
We must watch.
This is us.
This is white supremacy.
This is American fascism.
This is what the edge looks like.
David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more info on vows, visit www.insightmeditationcenter.org/the-pragmatism-of-five-precepts.
Greeson: Global headlines from Capitol riot, 2021's dreadful start, a peaceful ad, term limits and an obit with great reach