When my son was 5 we’d moved to a new city in the middle of winter. His lip quivered as we parted on his first day at his new school but his little self sucked it up and marched into the classroom. All day I fretted over how he was coping. When it was time to collect him 4 hours later, one of the longest four hours of my life, he bounded out of the school bursting with glee anxious for me to meet his new best friend Zack who towered over him, indeed still does. Playdates turned into sleepovers, birthday celebrations, ski trips and the obligatory rounds of playful boyhood mischief.
One of the gifts to me of this fine friendship has been knowing Zack’s Mom, Ghislaine. The weave of our friendship deepened as we moved through our boys’ various rites of passage together. Conversations covered all aspects of our lives…from the joys and mysteries of parenting, to the stresses of being sole financial providers (both of us divorced), to the challenges of balancing career with Mommy duties. We were constant, bolstering resources for each other for tutors, coaches, minor medical issues, sales on school supplies. When it came time for our boys to get their driver’s licenses we fretted. Would they be good drivers? Would they, please Lord, be safe? Responsible? We talked about everything…or so I thought.
A year into the boys enjoying autonomy zipping around town in their respective cars, a young African American man not much older than our sons was wrongly felled at the hands of a white police officer. Then another and another. I’m a white woman and with great remorse I confess that I had not been aware that these shocking, tragic and senseless events had been a fact of African American life. My veil of ignorance began to drop and as I started to become aware of a level of terror I’d not even been cognizant of, I called Ghislaine. Addressing her for the first time through the paradigm of my being white and she being an African American woman, I asked her if she had always been worried for her son Zack’s safety over and above the obvious dangers of driving on account of his being African American? There was a long pause, a deep breath and a simple, thundering, “Yes.”
How was it possible that through the myriad layers of conversation this excruciating concern had never arisen? What metal of forbearance, of long-suffering was at play in juxtaposition to my blindness?
In George Floyd’s final moments of slow assassination he cried for his Mother to save him. Experiencing the involuntary, primal rage and grief that ignites in me I am astonished at the forbearance so very many African American mother’s who have suffered the ultimate loss have maintained. From what depth of faith have too many found the will to turn the other cheek let alone get out of bed in the morning? I would not have it, I’m sure I wouldn’t.
These words, this confession of ignorance comes out with Frankenstein like awkwardness. I do not know how to begin to have this necessary conversation. What is the starting point? From where does the tide turn? Do we at first have to see one another as separate in order to come together? Is that the process? Have we all along been lying to each other? Will our voices unite above the cacophony of suffering in a universal cry to find higher ground together? I pray we will.
I continue, in the meanwhile, to be astonished at the level of forbearance expressed in the midst of the ongoing protests. This letting out of grief, rage, fear is needed. This unveiling. I need it. I need to hear it, witness it, understand it, bear its burden to the extent I can, be culpable to the extent I am.
Saints and all that is holy, please protect all our children, keep them safe from harm in order that they live to thrive in better times than these.