A World Broken: Thoughts on Ferguson

IMG_1074“Mom, why is the world broken?”

 

Tuesday morning at 6:40 AM my son arrived downstairs; and in between rubbing the peace of a night’s sleep from his ten-year-old eyes and setting the table, he asked me this question, asked me about Ferguson and what had happened overnight.

 

I have had to explain any parent’s share of thorny topics to him already in his first decade on the planet, but this was a question seemingly impossible to answer—not just for him, but, really, at all.

 

Where do I begin?  Where do any of us begin?

 

We are so broken, the answers as convoluted and tangled as they are elusive.

 

All we know for sure is a young boy, a young unarmed boy, is dead.

 

And no response beginning with the word “but” matters.

 

But he did this.  But he did that.

 

It couldn’t matter less.

 

A boy is dead.

 

A boy who no matter how many unfortunate photos surface was still just a boy.

 

No matter how many unfortunate things he did was still just a boy.

 

A boy filled with unrealized potential.

 

A boy our world should be bolstering, not knocking down.

 

Not killing.

 

I think of all of my most unfortunate transgressions and am grateful images of those moments are not plastered on the internet for the world to see and to judge. I think of all the unfortunate things I have done and am grateful that in the midst of my most difficult hours, I was not shot and killed. I think of who I was then and who I am now, that there were people who saw my worth and lifted me up.  I am grateful my existence was never marginalized, my voice never silenced.

 

Michael Brown belongs–belonged–not just to his parents or his community but to all of us.

 

He was your son and mine–to believe in, to protect.

 

Why is the world broken?

 

Because we have forgotten that he was ours.

 

And we need to remember.

Untangling

“An invisible red thread connects those destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstances. The thread may stretch or tangle, but never break.”  – Ancient Chinese Proverb

It was already dark at 5 PM fourteen years ago today, the whipping winds providing the perfect backdrop to the tumult that took up residence in me several hours prior when the call came in.

“There is a little boy.  Two years old . . .”

We had trained to be foster parents, anointed, and ostensibly ready for this call but really not.

From two to three in just a few hours.

I made arrangements, left work, and proceeded to pace the length of our house, sit and think, and then pace some more.

What did I know about a two-year-old boy?  What did I know about this two-year-old boy?

What could I offer him in the time he would be with us?  Would he like us?  Would he feel safe with us?  Would he trust us?

This story couldn’t be scripted, I concluded.  Instead it would unfold.

011-011And right on time a knock at the door.  Enter a child unlike any I had ever seen, a child who made his way in first, in front of the adult charged with bringing him to us.  She had his belongings.  He walked down the short hall and placed his drink on the dining room table, the same hallway and dining room table I had paced up and down and past a hundred times in the last three hours.  He walked with such purpose.  I was mesmerized.

The social worker left, and my husband came home.  Then we were mesmerized–following him, watching him, wondering who this boy was, who he would be.

We talked to him and waited for him to talk to us.

Soon he did–and with conviction, intelligence, and clarity.

So we listened.

And then we did what people with two-year-old children do . . . we made dinner, we read stories, we tucked him in.

On that night fourteen years ago we did not know what the future held–for him or for us.  The best we could do was make him a promise as he slept–unspoken but palpable nonetheless: We would be here–today, tomorrow, and always, unconditionally.

Fourteen years ago on this night at this moment all was quiet but would never be the same.

We would never be the same.

And there was nothing then to do but look at each other–and then at him–with gratitude.

 

Behind the Fence But Still There

IMG_8080“Just stand over there now, okay, behind the fence, with the other parents.  Do you mind?”

An edict politely disguised as a request from my ten-year-old who has been ensconced in middle school for all of seven weeks, a boy who, for the last six weeks, insisted I be no more than ten feet away from the door from which he is dismissed lest panic—his, not mine—ensue.

The characteristic parental emotions bubbled in response, of course—simultaneous feelings of loss and pride as I continually parent myself–proudly, selflessly–into obsolescence, believing the less my child needs me the more heartily I can pat myself on the back. 

It’s the purported and ultimate goal of the parent-child relationship: instilling, empowering, then, finally, the release. Self-sufficiency, independence. Exhale.

Except though my son sought a semblance of release this week, I realized he didn’t actually say he didn’t need me; he didn’t ask me to walk away.

He asked for some distance.  He asked me to stand behind the fence. 

Farther away but where he can still see me. 

And as I stood behind the fence this week, where he asked me, now needs me, to be, I watched my son each day as he exited the building—looking oh-so-briefly to his left where I was standing, then straight ahead—newly minted with all the confidence a new middle-schooler can possibly muster, bolstered by the distance and the safety of the distance he created.

He has put me in the periphery and will continue to do so.  My ego could be crushed or strengthened.  Black or white.  Either or.

But parenting doesn’t seem to work like that.

Because he also needs to know I am in the periphery, needs to know where and how to find me.

That if he needs to look to his left—or his right or behind or in front of him—I will be there.

He needs to know he can count on me—today and in the future, before, during, and, yes, even after the release.

Because as much as I want my sons to be independent and self-sufficient, I also want the world to be able to count on them, to be the people others turn to.

And just as importantly I want them to be able to turn to others when they need support.

Independence is laudable, but negotiating this world without each other isn’t.

The Cost of Rising

IMG_9200He’s happily oblivious to the angst I am feeling right now, and that is how it should be.

This was a week that required more than the usual dose of advocacy he needs, deserves.

And it was a week of unexpected challenges.

Challenges that necessarily resulted in changes.

Changes that made him cry. Sit in the back seat of my car and weep.

Tears that pulled me apart, left me wondering what would have been the effect had I stayed silent.

Questioning how I show my love, my support, my devotion.

Wondering if I should just slip into a mass of acceptance and apathy.

Just let things go.

Let things go so my child doesn’t cry.

Don’t stand up because it could knock my child down.

Fall down seven times, get up eight.”

And I realize without the tears, there can be no growth.

Without the fall, none of us ever gets the chance to rise.

This Ordinary

“Just write about your writer’s block.  Everyone will understand.”

Advice from my ten-year-old.

And though he is arguably one of the wisest people I know, I had to tell him that most people don’t really find a writer’s process all that interesting let alone being regaled with the stories of the occasional bout of writer’s block.

He countered, “Well, then, tell them why you have it.”

Why I have it . . .

Well, it’s simple really—and anything but.

I have writer’s block because something so unexpected and profound yet so remarkably perfect and easy has occurred.  It’s all I want to write about but yet I can’t.

Countless hours spent thinking; a web of memories untangled, tens of thousands of words contemplated . . . and nothing.

Which brings me back to why . . .

Why–when this is such a good story, such an unbelievably happy turn of events–am I so uncharacteristically hesitant to do what I do best and shout it from the rooftops?

Is it because it’s not just my story?

That’s what I have consoled myself with over the last several weeks as I looked day after day at a blank monitor, stared at the fingertips that have always been so accustomed to moving across the keyboard with far less thought than I generally like to admit, why when the few words did come to me, I wrote them, saved them, and promptly put them away:  It’s not just my story.  I have to be judicious, show good judgment.

But tonight as I walked through my neighborhood, dark and quiet, the salty air washing over me, I realized any block I was experiencing had nothing to do with my being smart or overtly sensitive to the feelings of others.  I mean, I try to do, to be both of those things in every facet of my life.  But as a writer, it has always been my contention—if not my compulsion—to write what I know, what I need to write, let the chips fall where they may.

I wanted to believe my writer’s block was because I was, am a nice person.

So noble.  So magnanimous.

But that isn’t it at all.

IMG_8734It’s because even though this story is so remarkable, it’s not; because even though things like this don’t happen every day, or ever, this story had to continue.

It is the period at the end of a sentence that’s been unfinished for the last thirteen years.

A logical conclusion and a custom fit.

A fairy tale ending, but still beautifully, blissfully ordinary.

And no one wants to read about ordinary.

And I don’t want to write it.

But live it?

I’ve been waiting thirteen years to live this ordinary.

Three Days

A picture is worth the proverbial thousand words—and that’s a good thing.

Because though I have written thousands since 23 July 2014, I am not quite ready to share them all.

So, in the interim, these will suffice.

A reunion for some, the start of something for others.

Delirious, joyful, and entrancing.

Thirteen years in the making.

And hearts fuller and more grateful than could ever have been imagined.

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