I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the death of a former student this week. She was 28 years-old, super creative, smart and hard working. More importantly she was one of those people who was just a bright light in rooms where too often we’re surrounded by dim bulbs.
This is not to exalt my student into a deity. It was just that her essence seemed to radiate outwards and make people feel good. This was confirmed to me in the last few weeks where dozens and dozens of people posted similar testimonies online.
My student was not ill nor was she the victim of a crime. Her death was apparently an accident, and, as a young white woman, it was unsurprisingly not at the hands of law enforcement.
This observation is not meant to be snide or timely. It’s more to put it into a 2020 shorthand that can be most easily understood given the reality of what we’re all living through right now.
Loss is loss but death is death and life, such as it is, is life.
Yes, you may write that down.
Loss hurts, loss makes you angry, loss can overtake your every waking hour and loss can take a lifetime to heal, if it ever fully does. Of course, the truth is it never quite does, nor do you really want it to. The loss, whether you like it or not, becomes a permanent part of the ever-evolving imprint of you.
What you choose to do with the loss is your own business and your own decision. But if it’s true loss there will be a scar, visible to others or not. To expect this not to be is to pretend your face in middle age and old age will look exactly the same as it did when you were 28 years old.
That statement alone brings up all kinds of images to me of my lovely former student whose face will now never change. But it is also a reminder of the luxury of aging and the opportunities it can afford if you make it past 28 years old. Most of us spend so much time wishing or trying to believably look frozen in our late twenties as time rolls on that we forget the true cost of what it is to actually do so.
This brings us to life and death.
It might not sound cheery but, trust me, it is.
Anyone who has managed to navigate deep loss and come out the other side, no easy feat, can tell you that there is no real choice in the matter despite how he/she might have been leaning in any given moment.
However crappy life and the current events that accompany it may seem, it still beats the alternative of trading places with that person whose time was cut so drastically short and for whom a tiny part of you will always mourn.
Watching tens of thousands of people line up in the streets of most American cities and towns demanding racial justice and shouting that Black Lives Matter these past two weeks is both powerful and enraging. But the fact that the overwhelming majority of Americans (Note: Now about 67% of us) say they support both the cause and the demonstrators is encouraging.
Still, even more discouraging is the irrefutable truth that an endless daisy chain of non-white families will continue to sacrifice a loved one to systemic racism and law enforcement right before our eyes, live on our screens, unless we get over ourselves and what passes for our lives at this particular touch point in time.
Despite two weeks of nationwide demonstrations the latest public sacrifice happened Saturday morning in Atlanta to 27-year-old Rayshard Brooks, an African American male, father, sibling and child.
Mr. Brooks was asleep in his car at a Wendy’s parking lot when police approached, woke him up and spoke to him for a while before putting him under immediate arrest for no pressing crime.
A scuffle ensued and they pulled out their taser gun to shoot but Mr. Brooks grabbed the taser away, turned and ran in the opposite direction on foot, only to be shot dead in the back at point blank range.
They never got to the almost nine-minute knee on the neck public police execution of George Floyd in Minneapolis several weeks ago that ignited the current ongoing national uproar. Instead Mr. Brooks’ very public death mirrors the more commonplace executions of youngish people of color by law enforcement that the American people have been out in the streets demonstrating against in the name of George Floyd to begin with.
This latest iteration of “disruptors” standing directly on the Atlanta interstate blockading traffic as buildings crumble in fiery protest across the city are what pass for the principal signs of life in that area.
Meanwhile, the rest of the city and country reels in a sea of loss, none more so than the family, friends and children this latest “incident” leaves behind.
In this current scenario, of course Mr. Brooks is cast against his will as death, his being the latest in a very specific epidemic that merely serves to remind us of all the many iterations that came before it. Not to mention the many other memories of loss and death that surface for those of us living through this modern day dystopia unrelated to him or his family.
One could argue, of course, that to choose this kind of life on the streets of America is to not choose life at all but rather one long infinity of prolonged pain leading into our masse eventual death.
Yet as the body counts rise and the mourning pain deepens it might help to remember that the one cool constant thing about life is you can still change your mind. Meaning that you always have the choice to do it a different way until death comes knocking, or rather, barreling through your door.
Unlike Mr. Floyd, Mr. Brooks and the many other ageless faces of those who’ve touched our lives whose choices were taken away long before their time.