A cane in each hand
she carried herself
With remarkable grace and dignity
As she entered the large circle
of worn and mismatched chairs
In the dark church basement,
Nodding and smiling
at each of the handful of people dotting the circle.
She couldn’t have been more than five feet tall
Petite and fine-boned
Her long blonde-gray hair
Soft around her face
And drawn up loosely
In a messy bun
That didn’t look like it would last the day.
Her dress was a deep blue floral cotton
Almost reaching the floor.
Over it she wore a very fine pale yellow pullover
That draped softly from her thin shoulders
The wide neck stretched just enough
To offer a narrow glimpse of freckled skin
Peeking out at the top of her left arm.
She nodded and smiled as she passed in front of me
Then with great care and a flourish of the two canes
Took the seat beside me.
Someone quickly drew up an extra chair in front of her
And gently helped her lift one leg onto it.
On her small arthritic feet
She wore what looked like orthopedic sandals
Thick and black
Too heavy for her delicate frame.
Her left leg stretched out in front of her
was swollen from knee to ankle,
The paper-thin skin so shiny and taut
It looked like a bruise-colored balloon about to burst.
“I’m Julienne,” she said,
In a most refined British accent
With a lovely lilt on the last syllable
That combined with the twinkle in her gray-blue eyes
To give the impression of a sprite
Ready for a little mischief.
I just had time to smile and say my name
when the training started.
We were here,
Some of us,
To learn what it would be like
To get arrested
To stand up for what we believed in
To stand in the safety of our privilege
And fight for the rights of others.
Others were here to teach us.
Gray and bearded men in rumbled khakis and plaid shirts
A woman with a headscarf battling cancer and injustice
A trans person with a funky designer oxygen mask
Who from their field experience as a medic
Counseled us about the health issues
Of being arrested.
All had been arrested
Most several times
Some for a few weeks
Was the hero of heroes
Veteran of three months in prison
A tortuous stint she earned
By standing up against torture.
“Oh, but you should do it,”
She said during a break
With a glimmer in her eye.
“You need to really see
How people of color
Are treated differently.
You need to experience it yourself.”
I know next week
She will be locking arms
With some of the people in this room
Counting on them to be her canes
As they are counting on her to be their courage.
Will I stand and be counted
Debra Rose Brillati