Central Station is just three minutes away from the Lorraine Hotel and the National Civil Rights Museum. I’m as close as I can be right now. The music of this city is pouring out of every speaker I pass by; it’s rolling out of the entrance of my room and flowing through the gathering spaces. Music washes over you…over me; it begs me pause…just let it flow over me like water. Let it soak, inspire, remind me…and speak in the remembering.
I came to Memphis on “business” but I’ve stayed by necessity of heart. My friend and colleague, Rev. Dr. Autura Eason-Williams, was murdered here in Memphis on July 18, 2022. She was not “mine” per se – she was all of ours. We loved her. We appreciated her. We were inspired by her courageous leadership and certain call. Her husband and children were encouraged and bolstered by her love every day. I’m in her “district”; I’m in her city.
Someone else was murdered the morning of my arrival. A runner. A mother, a wife, a teacher, a woman. Eliza Fletcher. I did not know her, but her disappearance changed my weekend. The tenseness in my body increased. I altered the plans I had for walking. When a man pulled up, rolled down his window and hollered at me as I walked down the street, “hey pretty lady what are you doing?”, I wanted to scream. I kept my cool and kept on walking. He drove on and I turned around for yet another route. I hate not feeling “safe”.
The museum walks me through history as I read through and get a taste of someone else’s experience. Someone I didn’t know, though I read some of his writing and particularly his letter to his pastor colleagues; written from the Birmingham jail. I am moved by the history I’m walking through but I am undone by the sobbing of the young man who is next to me. He must have been 11 or 12 years old. An older woman was with him; a grandmother, perhaps. She doesn’t try to stop him from crying, but she’s right by his side as he takes in this part of our history.
Something catches my eye: “Don’t stop now. Keep moving. Don’t get weary. We will wear them down with our capacity to suffer.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. addressing a rally at Shiloh Baptist Church December 15, 1961. It’s “the capacity to suffer” that won’t leave my spirit. So many people have gone before us that had the “capacity to suffer”. I do wonder…do we have that capacity now?
Memphis is not a city of murder and violence. There is more. Music is here. Amazing blues music. Rock n Roll. Country. Incredible scores of musicians found their deep rhythms in this city. I walked over to the Arcade and got a window seat looking out at South Main Street. The lady sitting next to me has a story. She’s going to tell me a little, but not much. Memphis is “home” for her. I explain that I’m not from here; I came to town to officiate a funeral, but I stayed to take in the museum and a bit of culture. I stayed to remember my friend. She tells me she’s “sorry for my loss”, but I tell her how it’s OK, because I’m a pastor and this is what we do; we do funerals. We want to honor and celebrate people’s lives. We think it’s important.
She has generational connections to the Arcade. We cover a lot of conversational ground in a few short minutes. It occurs to me as we sit and chat in what is the “oldest Café in Memphis”, that Reggie surely ate here many times. And maybe Elvis and surely Aretha Franklin. It also occurs to me that the woman I’m talking to in this moment is just as important as all of them. For all I know, which is very little, she is probably famous herself. The chances that I would recognize her are slim to none, unless she belts out a song I know. She kind of looked famous, but doesn’t everyone?
As she gets up to leave, she looks at me and says, “you said you are a pastor; you are a pastor; right?” And I said, “yes; I am”. She said, “I’ve been needing to talk to a pastor but not a pastor from Memphis. I’m really glad I got to talk to you today.”
Of course, I was glad too; to have a true “local” to chat with and laugh a little; share a bit of history; say some things you might only say to a stranger. Of all the things we talked about (and I met her son in the middle of it all), I don’t know what one thing she needed to say to a pastor, whether it was “content” or just the experience she was seeking. Whatever we both needed, we seemed to get it sitting at the window seat looking out at South Main. Saturday afternoon in Memphis, Tennessee.
“In peace I will lie down and sleep,
for you alone, LORD,
make me dwell in safety.”
– Psalm 4:8
God, please be near to anyone who needs to feel “safe” right now. We love you and we trust you completely. Amen.
If you don’t know Reggie, you’ve missed something that will bless your life. Start here and just keep listening. Peace.
Reggie Young – Memphis Grease