The earth quakes. It rumbles. It trembles, sort of like a roar, a shiver. I didn’t see it; I’ve never experienced it, but I heard the news. “1,900-plus Haitians are believed to be dead,” the faint voice of the news reporter says over my car radio, “and hundreds are believed to be missing.”
Another headline reads: “The latest on Afghanistan as Taliban take charge.”
Another: “13-year-old Mississippi girl dies of COVID-19.”
Her name was MKayla Robinson; “she was loved,” a school administrator says.
I think back to young Black children like her who I taught and how I couldn’t protect them either.
I can feel how afraid people are for their children — how tired they are that those who make decisions for their lives remain callous in their deaths.
I can feel my heartbeat, and I am angry. I have been angry for years. I have been angry since I heard the police officer eulogize Alton Sterling by calling him stupid. I have been angry since another police officer killed Botham Jean, blaming him for his own murder. I have been angry since I read the report that people who look like me are more vulnerable and less cared for in a still-raging pandemic. I have been angry since police raided the home of Breonna Taylor, killing her; since police pulled the trigger on Ma’Khia Bryant, killing her; since police shot Daunte Wright, killing him. I have been angry since white men and women put their feet on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, yelling, “This is our country,” and lived to tell the story. I have been angry for a long time.
But more than angry, I have been afraid and sad.
I feel helpless, hopeless, as if a thousand lifetimes and mother’s prayers and daddy’s words and Bible verses could never prepare me for how fragile life feels.
I put my phone down on my desk, grab my pen, open up my black journal and write: “We are living through way too much human pain, suffering, and confusion. This is not normal. Don’t ever get used to this.”
“Scary monsters, Daddy,” my son says playfully as he runs from his room, to the bathroom, and back to his room again. I grab my phone and run upstairs. “What are you afraid of? What’s in your room?” He grabs his cheeks with both of his small, brown hands. “So scary,” he says. He laughs. “You ain’t got nothing to worry about,” I said. “Daddy right here.”
I know this is a lie: There is so much to fear. Monsters are real, and sometimes we become them, leaving all types of death and destruction and tears and trauma in the path.
But sometimes we need lies to keep us living, to keep us safe. Sometimes Daddy needs to be fantastic, a superhero, to make others feel safe and sure they won’t have to face the world alone. We play together. We act like we are conquering beasts and lizards and oversized frogs and gigantic spiders. He laughs at me and I laugh back.
I bathe him and go back down to my office. The sun shines through the window with a brownish, reddish tint. The day is almost over.
I open my computer to finish Questlove’s the Summer of Soul. It is still hot, the sun unyielding. It beats on my face like the drum stands behind David Ruffin in Harlem. I close my eyes. People dance. They’re made of love, Blackness, beauty, and soul — of well-sheened afros, red lipstick, tight pants, well-chiseled chests, deep blues and blacks, gold chains, and hands clapping. I hear the deep drums. Woodstock looks envious upon Harlem. The heat is not too bad now, I think. The music plays: a joyful sound. It is not sorrow. It is not rough. It is us, being human, outside, together, beautiful, and alive. It is, as Fred Moten wrote, “our miracle, our showing.”
“Precious Lord, take my hand,” Mahalia Jackson sings as the people dance, filled with awe and love.
I open my eyes.
I write: I choose to believe that the world we hand to our children can be a little bit more loving and caring and liberating than the world that was handed to us.
Lord, let our children live.