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Still Thinking of George

I am still thinking about George Floyd almost a year after he died with the cop’s knee on his neck because it was in south Minneapolis, a few blocks from the Brethren Meeting Hall I attended as a kid, near where my aunts Margaret and Ruby lived. I wish I had met him but I didn’t patronize the Conga Latin Bistro where he worked security and I didn’t eat at the Trinidadian café  he liked. He’d come here from his hometown of Houston where he grew up in the projects in Beyoncé’s old neighborhood. He was a high school basketball star, went to college but it didn’t take, did some hip-hop and rap, did drugs, did prison time, and got religion. He attended a charismatic church that met on a basketball court and he was the guy who hauled a horse-watering trough out on the floor for the pastor to baptize people in. He came north to get in a drug rehab program and change his life.

He’d been unusually tall since middle school and knew that this made him appear threatening and to avoid trouble, he adopted a friendly demeanor all his life.

He’d been unusually tall since middle school and knew that this made him appear threatening and to avoid trouble, he adopted a friendly demeanor all his life. He grew to 6’7” and 225 lbs. He made himself meek and blessed are the meek. He was easygoing, even sort of shy. Shaking hands, he used two hands. He was a hugger. He could lift up a troublemaker and carry him out of the Club. He tried to dance but was too tall, and people laughed at him, and he didn’t mind. He kept a Bible by his bed and in his struggles with addiction, he and his girlfriend Courtney made a practice of standing together, hand in hand, and reciting the Lord’s Prayer and the Twenty-third Psalm. A tall Black man far from his family, dealing with demons, stood close to his girlfriend and they both said, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me” and declared their faith in goodness and mercy.

He was accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill and he died with the officer’s knee on his neck and thanks to the onlookers who recorded his death with their cellphones, it became the most famous death in a viral year of anonymous deaths, and he was made into a social cause. This gentle giant had never expressed himself as a victim; he grew up well-loved and all his life he never felt excluded but loved the ones he was with, just as Christ told him to do. Everyone was his neighbor.

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South Minneapolis in my youth was highly segregated, no different from any Southern city, and if Margaret or Ruby had met George, they might have been alarmed. When I was 17, my friends and I played basketball against a team of big Black guys in Minneapolis and we were scared speechless and could hardly dribble the ball. George was aware of the effect of his size and color but his gentleness won the day, and if he had spoken the psalm to my aunts and held out his hand, I believe they would’ve taken it in theirs. They would be moved that he knew the words by heart, the green pastures and still waters, the paths of righteousness. George knew the meaning of “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies” — it means that even in the midst of hate, there is beauty and generosity and goodness.

There is also silliness. Our secular liberal society does not know how to honor a godly man and in honor of George Floyd, white institutions issued reams of mission statements about inclusivity and diversity and banning words such as “master” that might be triggers. The “Massa” in Massachusetts could be a trigger and maybe it should change its name to Minnechusetts. To me, this isn’t justice, it’s masturbation, but in the world we live in, gesture trumps reality.

George Floyd was a religious man and the corner where he died is now a shrine. The mob that burned and looted after his death mistook him for something else. Minneapolis is honored by his life, the fact that he sought redemption here. He has already forgiven the cop. I know this.

GARRISON KEILLOR

We can honor him by reaching out to others in trouble, as we are, and taking their hand and saying, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” and the pasture and waters and if I forget the rod and the staff, or if I skip the anointing of the head with oil and go to the cup running over, you correct me, and in so doing, you and I will light a candle on the table that’s been prepared for us. God rest your soul, George, and in perpetual light may you at last be able to dance.

Garrison Keillor
Prairie Home Productions