Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Grieve or Fight

For many of my friends and peers, the Trayvon Martin tragedy still feels like an open wound. We see the face of this handsome young man, frozen in time, and wonder what could he have been had it not been for...and then we look over at our own children (or nieces, nephews, godchildren, students, etc).

You see, for so many of my peers, Trayvon could have been our son. We are all of a certain age, so when we see him and recognize the look of 17 year old immaturity and youthful defiance and of eternal naivete that tomorrows are inevitable, we see the face of a child. We remember what it was like to live on the precipice between childhood and young adulthood--when we challenged our parents' patience, dressed like our hip hop heroes and basketball idols, cursed with our friends, got into trouble at school, and did other dumb teenage shit that somehow didn't get us killed.

And then, if there is a child of 17 (or almost 17, or just past 17) in our lives, we exhale a world-heavy prayerful sigh that nothing that tragic and senseless befalls them. Then we wonder why this child's death still haunts and polarizes us six years later.

We know that tragedy happens. Some children perish in accidents and we mourn and cry with those parents. Some young people are casualties of conflicts that they volunteered to fight on our behalf, and we celebrate their sacrifice. Some children die of illnesses, and we dutifully donate and commemorate in their memories. And yes, some children are killed by senseless acts of violence, and we indict the pathology and despair that we just can't manage to escape, despite all of our efforts. We grieve for these children. And in most circumstances, we don't politicize our tears...

This morning, I caught a few minutes of a talk show segment that featured two mothers, Nicole Hughes and Morgan Miller, who were in mourning over the recent tragic drowning deaths of their toddlers. I nearly cried as I thought about my own rambunctious and fearless daughter who doesn't always listen. Then I applauded the courage of these two mothers who have joined to advocate for more pool safety awareness.

Admittedly, I don't go out of my way to find stories about the military, but whenever I hear a story like this, I think about the parents and other family left behind. We honor our soldiers with much pomp and circumstance, which is appropriate particularly in death. So I believe that those families deserve whatever designations and honorarium we bestow upon them.

In the last few weeks, friends of mine have had to mark the saddest of anniversaries. So I posted hearts to their pictures and memorial tributes. I offered virtual hugs and actual prayers. If asked to contribute to some memorial fund or charitable effort, I would eagerly find my wallet. I marvel at the resilience of these mothers to celebrate life in the face of unimaginable heartbreak.

Unfortunately, urban communities lose far too many children to random and intentional acts of violence. Just last week, this child was lost to random violence while this teenager was possibly stalked and targeted. Words are inadequate for the pain that either family must be experiencing right now, so let me declare that in both cases, we will stand, march, cry, and pray for justice. That demand is non-negotiable, irrespective of the specific circumstances.

So it pains my spirit to see the polarization that occurs whenever demands for justice are met with indifference or hostility. As if a grieving parent's impulse to channel the sadness into something other than just tears is only worthy of empathy if their dead child is deemed to be a sympathetic victim.

If we can refrain from mom-shaming a grief-stricken mother for being momentarily distracted or inattentive. If Gold Star families only cared about superfluous displays of patriotism at sporting events. If the advocacy is for a charitable cause that has minimal ideological or political associations. If the violence occurred in a safe neighborhood, or at a suburban school, and then if the shooter can't be labeled as mentally ill. If the dead child wasn't playing his music too loud or wearing a hoodie or a hijab or transgender. If the media cannot find a picture of your child that gives the wrong impression of your parenting. If the shooter was not a police officer or a wannabe vigilante.

If the world would rather see you grieve than fight.

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