A Minneapolis police officer took a knee for eight minutes forty-six seconds and killed a man, making that a standard unit of time for silent protest.

And it was measured out quietly last week along both sides of Main Street in Stowe, as Father Rick Swanson asked hundreds to kneel for that duration.

Eight minutes forty-six seconds is a long time to reflect on things. You can jog a decent mile in that time. In that amount of time, this white boy’s skin burns ever so slightly in the midday sun.

If you think watching a black man take a knee for the National Anthem is uncomfortable to watch, consider that the rendition performed by Alicia Keys at Super Bowl 47 is the longest on record, and it’s only two minutes twenty-three seconds.

After the Main Street crowd knelt and stood up again, some shakily, there were earnest self-aware observations: about halfway through, I wanted to change positions or maybe even stop as my foot fell asleep, but who am I to complain about discomfort for that length of time? This is white privilege.

In eight minutes forty-six seconds, irony and cynicism fade, as if a doctor had just drained an infection. Self-awareness is replaced by something else, whether or not you treat kneeling as religious supplication to a higher power, as typified by Father Rick, deep into the cobblestones across the street, head down so you can’t see his cartoon superhero face mask.

It’s a literal earthly grounding. You can appreciate the soft and scratchy new grass pressing blade-width indentations into your kneecap for eight minutes forty-six seconds, or the grit on the sidewalk that leaves pink pockmarks.

In eight minutes forty-six seconds, the chitchat with the person next to you — it’s been so long since we’ve seen actual people, in the flesh, on Main Street — gets swallowed by solemnity and solidarity. The silence spreads along the sidewalks as the cars go by and honk their horns.

What’s going on in this country is more than taking a knee. This is taking back the knee. This is the appropriation of what will someday be looked upon as one of the most infamous murder weapons in American history.

“Jesus weeps.” That’s what Father Rick’s sign said. No one can see you when you’re wearing a mask and sunglasses that fog up from the tears.

Later that night, as I emptied my pockets of their daily flotsam, I pulled out a rock, about the size of the upper third of my thumb. I’d forgotten about that pebble, picked up absent-mindedly at some point near the beginning of those eight minutes forty-six seconds.

I’d been rolling that rock around in my hand the whole time.

Tommy Gardner is news editor of the Stowe Reporter and News & Citizen.

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