VOL. 133 | NO. 25 | Friday, February 2, 2018
In the Snow
SNOW IN A WARM CITY. I looked out the window as the snowfall of a few weeks ago ended. The tires that brought the paper made the only marks on the street. The quiet, the way snow muffles everything, blankets the morning as surely as the snow.
My freshman year, I was home for spring break and playing golf at Galloway when it started to snow. We were in shirt sleeves walking down the 17th fairway. The flakes were sloppy, clumsy things, so big they were almost individually identifiable, the patterns almost discernable. We were laughing. By the time we putted out on the 18th, we had to sweep snow off the green to finish. We were shivering.
That night it snowed 16-plus inches, the second-largest snowfall here in history. Nora and I were dating then, and I somehow plowed Dad’s car from my parents’ house in East Memphis to her parents’ in Midtown. I ended up spending the night in the guest room in her father’s pajamas.
That weird snow wouldn’t be the marker for that spring of 1968. That weird snow would cause the cancellation of a march led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in support of the city’s striking sanitation workers. Two weeks later, he would be assassinated in Memphis. Two weeks later, I would stand in a dorm line for the phone, trying to call home. Two weeks later, I would find all the lines to Memphis tied up, and it would take me hours to find out if my parents and Nora were alright, if my city was on fire like so many were.
Two weeks later, my life and my city were forever changed.
Memphis didn’t burn. The brave firefighters that made sure of it weren’t with the fire department, but what they did was as brave and sure as steady hands on a hose dousing dangerous flames, as rising on ladders to reach the threat. Black and white leaders came together as one to convince their very separate constituencies that the bullet of a madman can’t be allowed to kill a city, even a dream.
We remain wounded, but the cooperation, shared vision and understanding of a relative few that saved a city 50 years ago remains the only true antidote that can heal us. In countless private meetings over my career since, I have sat with people as diverse as the city itself and heard reasonable solutions proposed based on respect for our differences and the commonality of our needs. Every one of those meetings had the potential to heal, but the politics of going public killed most of those initiatives.
Lately, I’ve seen public signs of public healing, of Memphis understanding that we have the unique responsibility to reject everything that pulled that trigger, the national events and mindsets that were behind that bullet then and now.
Snowfall in Memphis still reminds me of that spring in 1968. This morning, I see hope in it.
I’m a Memphian, and it’s beautiful.
Dan Conaway, a communication strategist and author of “I’m a Memphian,” can be reached at email@example.com.