Words

I don’t have any words.

I don’t have any words, and that means something is wrong because I always have words – that’s my thing, my jam.  I spent last night at the 7th Annual Bay Area Pun-Off, for crying out loud, celebrating the twists and turns and joys of words.  “Quiet” is near rock-bottom of the list of adjectives anyone would use to describe me – probably tied with “short of stature,” “goes with the flow” and “not very opinionated.”

I don’t have any words, because this week took them all away.  

This week pummelled and pulled and wrenched all the words out of me.  This week left me mourning and weary, outraged and afraid, discouraged and downtrodden.  

This week broke my heart.

I have wanted to say something, to write something, but felt so afraid of saying the wrong thing.  Afraid that there were already so many voices fighting to be heard, that the last thing the world needed was mine.  Afraid that I had no right to weigh in with my thoughts, feelings and reactions when in so many ways this isn’t my grief, isn’t my pain, isn’t my struggle.  Afraid that what I said would be misunderstood or misinterpreted, that my words would somehow make things worse.

But then I read this piece by Heather Armstrong, and I was reminded that saying something – brokenly, imperfectly, in a spirit of love  – is always better than saying nothing.  Because I can offer my thoughts and my prayers and my heart with humility, and hope that my words will be received as they are intended  – as words of love – but silence offers no such hope. Silence sounds too much like indifference, and that thought terrifies me.  Because I’m pretty sure I’ve felt every range and octave of emotion this week, but the one thing I haven’t felt for a hot damn second is indifference

So I’m going to use my words.   I’m going to say something instead of nothing, speak and not be silent.  I’m going to tell the truth, and ask for grace.

This week I have wanted to go up to every black person I saw and hug them.  

I wanted to hug them – really, really hug them – and tell them I so am so sorry.  

I wanted to tell them I am so sorry that you are bearing the burden of yet another death, yet another tragedy, yet another life cut short with violence and shock and pain.  I am so sorry that you have to be aware and afraid – for yourself, for your children – when you walk around in this world because the color of your skin makes you a target.   I am so sorry that my heart can break and I can mourn with those who mourn but the truth is I will never, ever fully know your pain – because the truth is this white skin I walk around in is a shield, a coat of armor, a pair of rose-colored glasses that shields and blinds me from seeing the full brokenness of our world the way you have to.  It is for that privilege and power that that I am the most sorry – because you live and operate in a world that I will never experience, a world built on and defined by injustice, a world that benefits me no matter how much I don’t want it to.

I am so sorry.

The other thing that has felt most true this week is what I want to say to people outside of the black community, to people in my life whose first reaction to the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile was a posture of defensiveness and disbelief that either of these could be a case of racism, to the glib response of “all lives matter” to a friend’s heartfelt post on Facebook, to talking heads and side-taking-addicted pundits on both sides of the aisle who want to move us away from a response of human compassion and grief to finger-pointing and political scorekeeping.

I have one word I want to say to all of us who are outside the black community: Please.

Please wait.

Please pause and breathe before you speak or tweet or comment or engage in a hashtag war.

Please take a moment, a breath, a beat and close your eyes and imagine something with me.

Imagine for a moment a world in which you weren’t quite you – a world in which your DNA was ever so slightly tweaked, and you didn’t look the way you do.  Imagine a world where the color of your skin alone made you a target, a suspect.  

Imagine a world where every time you sent your children – your sons and daughters whom you would give your life for –  to the park or the corner store or to school – your heart clenched with fear because you knew – you knew that for them to walk and talk and breathe and take up space and air and be present in this world was dangerous.  That for them to do the normal, everyday things we take for granted – driving, shopping, working – was always tinged with danger, just for who they are.

Imagine a world where you went to the best colleges – Harvard, Stanford, Cal – maybe even went on to get an advanced degree.  Imagine a world where you worked hard and got a great job at a prestigious company – where you made a great living and lived in a nice neighborhood and drove a luxury car.  Imagine you were a devoted husband or wife, an involved and loving parent, an active member of the community and model citizen. Imagine you had all the advantages an education, a great job and family could provide – and none of that stopped the neighbors from calling the cops because they thought you were a burglar trying to break into your own house.  Imagine none of that mattered when the cops pulled you over at 6-months pregnant and asked if you were a drug dealer.  Imagine none of that mattered when you were stopped and frisked on the streets of NYC for walking home to your apt in a “too nice” neighborhood.  Imagine none of that mattered when a routine traffic stop turned into a tragedy.

Please imagine – and have some compassion.  Because those aren’t outliers or sensationalized stories – they are the reality, the every day for men and women of color in this country.  I know it’s uncomfortable, I know it’s easier to disbelieve – but it is truth.  There are no shortage of stories – research, read, listen, believe.

I know.

I know that it’s complicated.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a police officer, to have to make split second decisions every day that are literally life or death.  I don’t know what it’s like to have to be suspicious as part of your job, to have your daily life consumed with the knowledge that if you trust the wrong person or let your guard down, you could die – that people around you you have sworn to protect could die. I can’t for one second fathom the weight of that responsibility and I am deeply thankful that I probably won’t ever have to, because we have men and women who do that hard and necessary and complicated job for us.

Trevor Noah has a great piece about the fallacy and danger of setting up an “us vs them” dichotomy between the black community and the police.  No one wins in that scenario, and it’s a false one.   To paraphrase Jon Stewart (clearly on a Daily Show kick here) we can honor and respect and be grateful for the police, and still acknowledged that there is something deeply broken in the system.  Something is deeply broken because police officers are not superheroes or saints – they are men and women, just like you and me, with a mix of good and bad inside their hearts and minds.  They have prejudices, just like every human being does, and when those prejudices come up against split-second, life or death decisions – injustice happens.  Tragedy happens.  This week happens.

Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith, Brent Thompson and Patrick Zamarripa –  these men died this week and they  shouldn’t have, and I am heartbroken for their families and friends and communities.  Fear and hate and division seems to be taking a foothold, to be gaining the upperhand, and I am going to fight tooth and nail against that.

Because hate doesn’t get to win.  Fear doesn’t get to win.

But fear and hate aren’t going to forfeit the game – we have work to do to drive them out.  We have work to do approaching one another with love, compassion and empathy.  We have work to do being humble enough to admit we don’t have the full picture, courageous enough to listen to the stories and hurt and pain of people who look different than we do, and loving enough to do something about it.

This week has felt like the world is falling apart, but I believe there is still hope.  

I believe there is still hope because I have to.

I believe the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness shall not overcome it.

I’m praying that we believe together, and work together to shine the light of truth, the light of love and compassion, and bear one another’s burdens.

Let’s listen and love and find a better way forward together.
Those are my words.

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2 Comments

  1. Mary. You are awesome. Love you and am so proud! Your writing is amazing and so well thought out. Mama Lewis.

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