“Each man’s joy is joy to me; each man’s grief is my own.”~Joan Baez.
When I was a child I held my (only, older) brother in high esteem. I basically thought he was the expert on everything. He broke my heart when he told me the truth about Santa Claus (Father Christmas in our tradition). I thought he was making it up when he explained that Saturday is the last day of the week: it made no sense to me. If the weekend is Saturday/Sunday, then how come Sunday is not the last day of the week? But he could convince me to share my pocket money with him, or turn my doll’s pram (stroller, in modern language) into a racing car, or a truck. When we both went to the same high school he was many years ahead of me. A change in the school year (from January to September) meant that even though he was only 3 years older than me, he was in fifth form (10th grade) when I started in first (6th grade). And at that point he was too cool to acknowledge his little sister. Such is life.
We all have best friends that we would walk through fire to save. OK, maybe not fire, but you know what I mean. There is always that one person that knows you have their back, while they have yours. Friendships can run deeper than blood, sometimes. As we grow up we may encounter people that come from completely different backgrounds from us, yet we click. We understand each other; we have a connection that cannot be explained. If you are lucky, you will realize that skin color is the least reliable way to judge a person’s character. If you are open to meeting people of different cultures, you will enrich your own experience of life.
The secret to living comfortably in a diverse society is to look for and acknowledge the simple truth: beneath it all we are all the same. The externals may present differently, but our desires, our drives, our needs, not so different.
In the early 80’s the disease AIDS presented in a scary and ugly manner. In the hospital, we nurses were on the frontline, trying to deal with a tragic illness about which little was known. As we became more informed about HIV, how it was transmitted, who were at risk, I noticed a particular curiosity on the part of nurses. Whenever we were being given report on a patient with AIDS, or who was known to be HIV positive, the question would be: How did they get it? Usually the answer would not be known. But even if known, the answer would not change the treatment plan. It was not really relevant to the nursing care which the patient needed. The sad truth was that we would ask that question for our own reassurance; if the patient acquired the disease because of engaging in some lifestyle practice that I had never/would never engage in, then I could feel better about myself. We could not face the reality that ‘there but for the Grace of God go you or I.’
There is another epidemic that we are fighting today in the US. Gun violence (whoever is the perpetrator) kills 89 people every day. African Americans are more than twice as likely to be the victims as white Americans. Then there are the police shootings. Last year 990 people were shot and killed by the police in the US. For African American males the rate of shooting by police is five times higher than for white males. The arguments that we should say all lives matter rather than black lives matter ignore these numbers. And it should not just be black people who are shocked, traumatized, and burdened by the senseless loss of yet another life. It is time for all citizens of the US to be afforded equal rights under the law.
When people with a platform and a megaphone feed into the worst fears of society and highlight differences and divisions between us it is up to those of us with a conscience to be even louder and more demonstrative of the opposite. We have to work on building bridges not walls; on rebuilding trust not fear. We may not have started the fire, but we will all be consumed in the flames. Therefore we all have to play a role in extinguishing the burning heat.
There is evidence and there are best practices which have already been shown to be effective in improving relations between the police and the communities they are supposed to ‘protect and serve’. There are programs which can promote diversity and tolerance. But there is a deeper injustice at work in the society that undereducates; undernourishes and continues to undervalue a whole segment of the population. We have to go deeper to understand, to confront and correct the wrongs that have been (and continue to be) perpetrated on people of African descent. And white people have to acknowledge that we continue to benefit from the imbalance in power, just as black people continue to suffer from it. This is not ‘their’ tragedy. This is ‘our’ tragedy.
This Friday morning it may be hard to focus on the love and good which exists in the world. But it is up to us to draw on the strength of another young black man who lost his life to gun violence: “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper to a night already devoid of stars. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” (MLKJr). It is up to each one of us to bring the full force of love down on this problem, to demonstrate unity, not division.
Have a wonderful weekend Family. Let us hope that the weight of this burden of grief will help to turn things in a different direction, so that our children and grandchildren can know a brighter future.