On Michael Brown, Eric Garner, A Loss for Words, and Hope Anyway
Dec 4 2014
I tried to write tonight, but my heart is stuck.
Kind of pffttt.
A little bleh.
And I know why my heart is stuck; only, I don’t much like thinking about it because it makes me feel helpless and afraid and like I can make no difference at all. But I have a sign I made this summer which sits on my desk and reads, “I release the belief that I must never be afraid,” so I’ll write anyway, even with a sticky heart full of fears both petty and powerful.
My heart is stuck because of Michael Brown.
My heart is stuck because of Eric Garner.
My heart is stuck because of Trayvon Martin.
Now, my heart isn’t stuck so much because I’ve Picked a Side, but because I straddle the sides and find myself heartbroken for the less and less subtle racial divide in America, heartbroken for the families of these men specifically, and heartbroken for the many dedicated, honorable policemen and policewomen of all races who faithfully serve both law and peace and yet find themselves on public trial.
I find myself in the middle of this mess, and it’s very personal. It affects my family. It affects my children and the way we live our lives. And I’ll bet I’m not alone, here in the middle. Here with my sympathies running wild and to all sides. I’ll bet I’m not alone, and yet I haven’t heard many voices like mine. Saying “racial oppression is very real” and “the system is broken” and “there are people who should be held accountable” and “there are good people trying to do a good job to treat people fairly and enforce the law.” Both/And. I haven’t heard a lot of that.
Mine is not a story of personal racial persecution, of course. Not my story as a white, middle class woman in America. Have I encountered discrimination because of gender bias? Sure; I’ve had my fair share. But it’s my children – my Asian and Latino babies whose hearts I hold – who’ve pulled aside the curtain and let me see into a world different than mine. Despite living in a house together. Despite eating at the same table. Despite all the advocating I do for them and the advantages I try to give them. Despite their educations and upbringing. They live with one foot in a world different than mine.
My heart is stuck with my son.
Stuck with my son whose brown skin has already changed how some people treat him.
Stuck with my son because, now in his teens, there are people who no longer see his brown doe eyes or his ridiculous long lashes. They see THREAT. Not Tender Heart or Sweet Soul. They see MENACE.
My heart is stuck with my son because people find his Guatemalan features suspicious. They’ve called him Spic already, and Retard because he has special needs, and both terrible words will happen again. And again. And again. The deck is stacked against him, and the deck embedded in his skin and in his brain… and in the hearts and minds of people he encounters. The deck is stacked against him, and I can’t fix this broken world or the words we call each other.
Like I said at the beginning: Helpless. Afraid.
I’m afraid someday he’ll be walking in a store with his hands in his pockets.
I’m afraid someday he’ll be walking down the street in the dark.
I’m afraid someday he’ll commit a minor, stupid crime.
And I’m afraid he’ll pay with his life because THREAT.
So I stand peering through the curtain into a world that’s not my own, living, as I do, in a land of privilege, and I watch headlines that read “Trayvon Martin” or “Michael Brown” or “Eric Garner” but I see them as My Son.
Perhaps Helpless and Afraid are some of the roles we mommies simply must play in this life. Perhaps they’re just part of it. Bit parts if we’re lucky. Helpless and Afraid as characters in life’s script. They can steal the show, though, sometimes. Sweep it clean away.
I want the story back from Helpless and Afraid. I want to put my spin on it. I want to beef up the roles of Hope and Help. I want to argue with my fellow playwrights to cast Love and Light as our leads. But our collective story is more muddled than that. More muddled and messy and mired in the muck.
And so my heart is stuck with all those who have to maneuver through lives filled with injustice.
My heart is stuck with my son’s and daughters’ communities of color. My adopted communities.
My heart is stuck with police officers who preserve and promote peace, who build up communities, who selflessly put others’ needs ahead of their own every day, but who are on trial by the public anyway.
My heart is stuck with the Us-ness and the Them-ness of it all. And with my inability to be, fully, an Us or a Them.
And I’m stuck wondering how we, collectively, move forward in ways that make us, truly, a nation of liberty and justice for all. Not blind to our failures. Not unapologetic or defensive. Not full of unrealistic, Pollyanna style bandaids over gushing wounds. But a people of hope.
A people of hope.
That’s what I wish for us.
And, with that, I suppose I’ve found my words tonight after all, and I’ll end by sharing this, which I wrote originally on day of the Sandy Hook shooting and reminds me that hope is, after all, always on the way… and Light is with us to the marrow of our bones.
The Light and the Dark
We sit in this season of darkness. Cold. Helpless. Lost. Afraid. Consumed, at times, with our despair and our weakness and our lack of control over life and death and the events in between.
It doesn’t seem strange at all that it’s winter. I can’t imagine today without gray.
There’s a part of me that cries out against it, this soul-sucking sorrow. This agony and angst. There’s a spark, bright inside me, that quietly waits with its hopes and its wishes and its sweetness and its aches.
This is the season of darkness, it’s true. But I believe today more than ever that one of our most profound acts as human beings, and perhaps our most unifying, is our insistence on celebrating the Light at the exact time it appears lost to us.
Do you know that we all do this? This Light Dance? We do. All over the world, across genders and borders and creeds, we do.
We Swedes wreath our eldest daughters in candle crowns at the Festival of St. Lucia. We Dutch hand our children lanterns in honor of Sint Maarten who showed kindness to a stranger. We pagans light bonfires at the winter solstice and dance naked in the snow. We Jews light the Menorah faithfully for eight nights because we believe that somehow, miraculously, Light will find a way to keep shining. We Christians burn the candles of Advent, anticipating that Light will walk among us, at once as frail as baby and as strong as God.
We celebrate Loi Krathong in Thailand. And Diwali in India. And in doing so, we defy the dark and choose hope instead because we trust, despite all evidence to the contrary, that Light is coming. That Light, in fact, is already on the way.
Everywhere in the world, we rejoice in this triumph of Light over darkness as though we believe it will inevitably come to pass. We are ludicrous, ridiculous, irrational, and unreasonable people to do such a thing. And we are gorgeous and stunning and amazing for celebrating the Light as though we’re already victorious. For celebrating Life in the midst of death. For celebrating Peace in the midst of pain.
So come, Light. Come quickly. We’re ready for you. Especially now. Especially today when the darkness edges close. The spark inside us beckons you home, keeping the faith, and it knows your best secret. The spark inside us knows the darkness doesn’t win in the end.
“The Light and the Dark” was originally posted on the day of the Sandy Hook school shooting.
December 14, 2012
In loving remembrance.