The musical bamboo windchimes are whispering above my head. The sun on the front porch is warming up my toes as the house cooled over night and I was getting a bit chilly. The hum of a neighbor’s lawn mower simmers in the distance as the birds chatter and sing in the trees. Pandemic puppy stretches happily in the grass and keeps an eye on the bees.
Seems so peaceful. Seems like it should be so peaceful. But my heart is not at rest. My heart can’t rest while acknowledging the incredible privilege to live in this community with perfect little streets, well-cut grass and quiet that is enough to hear the wind rustle the trees.
Last night the air was filled with noise. The helicopters roared overhead. I knew where they were going. Downtown to watch over the rioting. Downtown where people marched in solidarity and peace to lift their voices and plead for equality as human beings. Downtown where agitators disrupted that peace and created havoc and destruction. Downtown filled with hurt and pain.
I struggle to read and understand. I gather up information as quickly as I can. I watch videos and read the news stories. I rapidly try to process what’s going on around me. Shortly after midnight, my 14-year-old bursts into my room. My lights are off, but he doesn’t care. “What’s going on downtown?” he asks. “Look at these videos of what’s happening right now in Pittsburgh. It’s chaos and violence. What’s going on with 2020?”
“Coronavirus was bad enough,” he says, “And now we have this.” I try to help him understand. Black lives matter. And all lives can’t matter until every human receives dignity and respect. But so many are scared and threatened by this possibility that another peaceful demonstration was taken over by white people with their own agenda. They are not allies. They do not care about equality and justice.
Super Tall Guy is wrestling this. He’s trying to find his way – posting comments on social media and grappling with the responses. He’s tossing out memes and slogans that he hears and learning from reactions. He’s sitting at his Xbox playing Fortnite while chattering with his friends. The conversation floats seamlessly between razzing one another for lack of skill in the game to commenting on the videos of rioting they are watching on their phones simultaneously. They struggle to work through this. They are trying to make sense of their world. But it is currently senseless.
And he is not there yet with his understanding of the magnitude of the issues. He sees the world from his whiteness because that’s what he knows. He is shielded from a lot of the injustices, yet experiences smaller aggression. I offer my words to him. I offer my life as a witness to him. I offer my opinions. But he is being shaped by a larger culture that I am swimming against and speak a small voice into.
After he ambled back to his room and continued engaging his cousins and buddies, I lay in bed thinking how much more simple parenting was when my kids were young. More simple before they had immediate access to the news, many times before I was even aware of the current events. More simple when it was just my brain trying to make sense of the world. Now I try to translate it for my boys. Translate injustice and oppression. Translate pain and violence. Translate the risk to them because of their skin color. I lay with the weight heavy upon my heart. I lay knowing that too many can’t breathe in this world today.
I can’t breathe, the world cries out.
I can’t breathe, the scariest of all feelings.
I can’t breathe, the cries of the oppressed and tortured.
I can’t breathe when greed and power shape actions
I can’t breathe when leaders incite violence
I can’t breathe when lives are lost
I can’t breathe if my brothers and sisters can’t breathe.
Want to do something? I do. So I read more, like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s op-ed (“What I want to see is not a rush to judgment, but a rush to justice”) and ordered “How to be an Antiracist.” I pray more. I talk more. I struggle more. I wonder more about how to shape the boys.
I can’t let the peace of my quiet and my community lull me into ignoring the struggle of the communities around me. Talk to me. Challenge me. Join me.
I cannot do anything except offer my love, my support, and my prayers. I am glad that I am not raising children right now. But I am feeling the oppressive weight of guiding other peoples children. I have 50 students who are writing about communication, conflict, and power. How can I respond in a calm, just manner when I myself am incredibly angry. I stand beside you, you’re not alone.