Last weekend I finally saw Black Panther. It’s intense, for sure, and like every Marvel movie I’ve seen so far (having only relatively recently been converted to fandom), has some really amazing things to say about what it means to be human, what it means to live in community, what it means to watch each other’s back and hold on (hard) to your tribe. I’m stunned and inspired by the way these stories, often dismissed as “just comics,” speak with such depth and clarity to so much of what is both awful and beautiful about this life.
The Monday morning after came early, as I took off on a long-anticipated(in our house), albeit quick, trip. Three busloads of 5th graders and a appropriately corresponding number of chaperones. 6am Monday to 9pm Tuesday. City Museum, the St. Louis Arch, pizza and arcade games, the St. Louis Zoo and the Cahokia Mounds (Google it—I had no idea!).
Exhausted just thinking about it, aren’t you?
I could tell you some funny stories. And there are certainly some inside jokes that will go down in history. And a minor tween crisis averted here or there that would make for good storytelling. But what I really want to be sure to say is this: I just experienced close to 150 fifth graders and their parents and teachers being tribe.
Tribe. It’s your people. The ones you hold accountable and are accountable to. The ones you don’t always like but that you always love. The ones who know you and love you anyway, or maybe don’t know you well at all but choose to love you because you are THEIRS.
And I feel like what I’ve known these last 36 hours is a particular sort of tribe—it’s a chosen tribe, a tribe forged out of these kids and their teachers working hard for the last several years at taking care of each other while they learned their lessons and sang their songs and played their instruments and acted on their stage. It’s a tribe born of a vision of some very talented and compassionate and capable leaders who then set about making that vision a reality. Truthfully, we won’t all stay in touch, and with the school year almost over some of us may never see each other again, but that doesn’t change that we’ve walked these last two days together. In that way I guess it’s only a temporary tribe—but still, I’ll take it.
Because here’s the thing–those three busloads of kids were a complete cross-section of our city—maybe even our country.
Some of us travel frequently, and have all the gear, all the things, all the fancy luggage, all the monogrammed bags, all that you need (and some stuff you don’t) to take a trip. And some of us have never left the state of Kentucky.
Some of us are hotel pros and can give you a list of what’s best and worst about our favorite chain. And some of us have never even stayed at a hotel of any kind, and are surprised to discover you don’t need to bring your own towel and that probably the manager will even find you some toothpaste if you need it.
Some of us dine out frequently and can order quickly and politely no matter what age we are. Others haven’t eaten out much at all aside from fast food, and so simply telling a kind waitress what you’d like to drink becomes a major milestone.
We are all different colors. We span the full spectrum of any sort of socioeconomic continuum. We are single parents and long and happily married couples. We are Republicans and Democrats. We are people of faith and we are not so much. We are high achievers and we are those who struggle to read. We are well-fed and we are malnourished. We are well-loved and we are survivors of abuse and neglect. We are all scarred somewhere inside—and some of us show it. We are Lincoln Elementary Performing Arts School, and the expectation we’ve been given is that at LPAS, we are family. And so we’d better act as such.
And so we do—and our kids are so much better for it.
I cried this morning with a friend and fellow parent as we shared a story about a kid our own children have known since kindergarten, and who we know struggles in ways we cannot imagine in this life. And when I saw one of the educators sweep that same kid into a sincere and welcoming hug as we walked into the zoo this morning, and the kid burst into a grin, my heart sang—because for one moment, he was safe. Held fast. Reminded he is loved and that he matters.
I smiled deep inside as I saw my daughter run off across a field at one of our stops, shrieking with laughter, friends calling after her, and I breathed immediate thanks that she is able to know such joy given all the sorrow she has also known.
I felt my heart flood with gratitude as I watched teachers love fiercely and lead compassionately and give so selflessly of their time and talent because they love these kids of ours as their own. They really, truly do.
And then I thought of T’ Challa, the Black Panther (Were you thinking I wouldn’t come back around to that?), and his words at the movie’s end, as he’s speaking to the United Nations about his new understanding of what it means to part of a global community:
We will work to be an example of how we as brothers and sisters on this earth should treat each other. Now, more than ever, the illusions of division threaten our very existence. We all know the truth: more connects us than separates us. But in times of crisis, the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another as if we were one single tribe.
One single tribe, y’all. What happens to one of us matters to all of us, because eventually, in ways we don’t even realize, what happens to one of us happens to all of us.
Look, I know I’m only writing a variation on a Julie-theme here, and maybe even preaching to the choir. But that’s okay. We need reminding. I do, anyway. It’s much easier to write about being one tribe than it is to actually live it, and I can assure you the struggle is real for me, too. There are plenty of folks I know I’d just as soon never interact with again…but that’s not how life rolls.
There are a million things constructed to tear us apart. Myriad labels designed to divide. News spins created to fortify those illusions of division. But in the end, what matters is that this life is best done, most fully lived, together. We need each other, whether we like it or not.
Impossible? Maybe. Only I just watched it happen. And maybe it was just a couple of days. And maybe it won’t make a difference for everyone.
But if even half–hell, if even a quarter!–of the kids on that trip remember that, once, for 48 hours, they held equal footing, equal sway, equal love, equal voice–then I can’t help but think it could move the needle of our existence a bit further from chaos and bit closer to wholeness.