On the evening of July 15, I drove into downtown Baton Rouge and checked into a squalid motel room that reeked like my father’s car—cigarette smoke overpowered by the scent of cheap cologne. Weeks earlier I had made the decision to spend a night in Baton Rouge while driving back to Houston from Oxford, Mississippi, not knowing what a historical moment in American history awaited me. Alton Sterling’s funeral service had been held earlier that day, and my intention was to find a Black Lives protest or march that night. I was outraged by the murder of the 37-year-old black man, who was shot while pinned on the ground during an arrest by two white police officers.
Perched on the edge of a stained office chair, I looked online for news of protest gatherings and instead found a nearby Zen Buddhist temple named Tam Bao that held a weekly meditation session on Friday nights. Eager to find a moment of serenity amidst the swirling chaos of the city, I headed over to the temple. This would be my protest tonight, I told myself, my way of practicing with the heat of aggression and violence by sitting in silence and stillness.