As I worked with congressional officials this week to prepare for Congressman John Lewis’ return to the Capitol on Monday, and plan for the throngs of visitors we expect to pay tribute to him in Washington over the next couple of days, I shuddered at the thought that the people — whom he loved so much and to whom he always stood so close — would not be able to get close to him to say their goodbyes.He will lie in state at the top of the east front steps of the Capitol, as people file by below.
That is the world we live in with today’s pandemic.
John Lewis would want to shake everyone’s hand. That was his way. He would stay out until the middle of the night after a reading, panel discussion, speech, or other event to make sure he shook everyone’s hand. (Vineyarders know this from his visits to the Island in 1998 to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the March on Washington, his dialogue with C.T. Vivian at Union Chapel in 2014, his book signings in Edgartown and Vineyard Haven, and the many other occasions on which he spent time with us.)
But not today, not tonight, not this time.
He would want everyone to be safe. Socially distance. Wash hands often. Wear a mask. Stay healthy, so you can go to the polls in November.
Find another way to honor and celebrate the life and legacy of my friend, John Robert Lewis. Hang a ribbon on your door, fence, or lamppost. (Blue was his favorite color!) Go to the polls in November; and take everyone in your family and all of your friends and family with you. Call your friends around the country and tell them to register and go vote.
As John would say, “We have got to vote this November unlike we have ever voted before!” We’ll shake hands in the morning.
Linda Earley Chastang, Congressman Lewis’ former chief of staff, is a seasonal resident of Oak Bluffs. She and her husband, Mark, often hosted Congressman Lewis during his visits to Martha’s Vineyard.