Eight minutes and forty-six seconds is a long time.
In grand scheme of things, it is not that long. But eight minutes and forty-six seconds is a long time if you are kneeling silently in prayer in the hot sun.
Most people are not used to long periods of silence, and eight minutes and forty-six seconds of it can be really uncomfortable. Imagine if the pastor at your church called for eight minutes and forty-six of silence during worship. If I go longer than a minute people start to think that I fell asleep.
But at a Black Lives Matter rally in my hometown of Medford, Oregon, we were asked to kneel in silence for eight minutes and forty-six seconds. That was how long Derek Chauvin knelt on the neck of George Floyd. Eight minutes and forty-six seconds.
And now I am kneeling for eight minutes and forty-six seconds. It was a long eight minutes and forty-six seconds, and, having spent a few years worship at a silent Quaker meeting, I am used to long periods of silence. But this felt extremely long. Usually when I have long periods of planned silence, I am sitting comfortably, usually inside, in a chair. This time I was kneeling, and my 62 year-old body was starting to revolt. My hands were palms together in prayer, and that put a bit of a strain on my already bad back. The hot sun beat down on me.
I was praying, but my prayers were troubled. In my prayers I was thinking about Ahmaud Arbery, and what he must have felt when he realized he was about to be lynched. I could feel the panic that must have arisen in him, as he experienced the last few minutes of his life. I tried to imagine what it was like for him to be running for his life, and when that was not working, to be fighting for his life. I wondered what was going through his head the first time he was shot. And tears started to flow from my eyes.
I thought about George Floyd. I thought about what those eight minutes and forty-six seconds were like for him. I thought, I know when my eight minutes and forty-six seconds will end. I will be able to get up, stretch my legs, and start marching again. He had no idea who long he would be down. He had no idea how long the knee would be on his neck. But at some moment he must have known it would be for the rest of life, because at the end of eight minutes and forty-six seconds, he was dead.
There is no way I can really know what those moments were like for Ahmaud Arbery or for George Floyd. My imagination is not big enough, and their experience in no way compares to mine. By comparison, my eight minutes and forty-six second was luxurious. For them, it was last eight minutes and forty-six seconds of their lives.
Now you and I have the rest of our lives, to make sure that those eight minutes and forty-six seconds are never repeated. Never again.