It’s taken me awhile to gather my thoughts on the killing of George Floyd because his death has brought up a lot of stuff and I didn’t simply want to add obvious anger to the public conversation. I speak only for myself, so don’t take this as my opinion on how you should be responding, but I now choose to channel that outrage toward political leaders rather than fellow citizens. What follows is not any sort of convenient sound byte, and I don’t provide a TLDR, but if you have the patience to read it, I am grateful.
This goes back to my brief time working with young people aging out of foster care. I’ve written before how I eventually chose to leave that work because I was losing functionality in the midst of burnout compounded by the death of a parent. But I’ve never mentioned how the oft-fatal violence perpetrated on black people since Trayvon’s death—and often by police—factored into that decision. I never mentioned it because I didn’t want to co-opt the tragedy of others. But the truth is that every time I read one more news item about yet another black person unjustly killed, I’d be filled with rage that reduced me to tears. I hadn’t yet developed the skill of finding my center, so I wasn’t able to channel that energy in healthy and helpful ways.
My solution then was to quit social media and go on a news blackout (Twitter had become particularly unbearable during the height of #blacklivesmatter). It was not an easy decision because it looked and felt like I was just giving up. And I judged myself for possibly doing an irresponsible thing. Ultimately, however, I was forced to follow my own advice on self care that I was dispensing—so hypocritically at that time—to the young people in my orbit.
In my time away, I did not bury my head in the sand. To the contrary, I looked at the darkest parts of me that were thrown into feelings of rage, despair, powerlessness, and cynicism about humanity. I uncovered so many ways I was showing up with my false self, even in work that originated from the heart. It was a messy, challenging, and humbling, but also very sacred time.
Looking through this lens on George Floyd’s death and the rioting it has spurred, I wonder at certain things. First, when this country will finally hit rock bottom and make permanent change. Being in the business of personal transformation, I know that deep change has its own timing, and we often underestimate “rock bottom.”
Second, while I advocate for gentle transformation, I also know there is a time and place for burning shit down. I’ve taken a figurative blowtorch to aspects of myself and also literal fire to pieces of my life that have overstayed their welcome. If people are moved to the streets during a pandemic, risking not only illness, but arrest, injury, and even the very sort of senseless death they are protesting, then more power to them. If they want to burn the house down, I won’t ask them to be civil about their disobedience. It’s time we paid attention to that anger.
That said, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. It’s also time we became earnestly curious about the anger on the other side. I mean, what lurks inside a human being and causes him to place a knee on another person’s neck and smother him to death, in ignorance of his pleas and the pleas of others? I have no idea, but I am certain that no amount of moralizing or shaming will bring it to light. Is it any wonder that the shouting just keeps getting louder on both sides, and continues to fall on mutually deaf ears?
What will it take to move forward? At the risk of sounding cheesy, cliché, or Pollyanna-ish, my personal belief is open-heartedness. The world does not need more anger, guilt, or pity. Outrage can be healthy, but only as a catalyst. What will sustain change in the long-run is the courage to look at stuff we don’t want to look at, and compassion for people whose perspectives we don’t readily understand. My own work here lies in not being triggered every time I see a Police Lives Matter bumper sticker or a Thin Blue Line flag.
The world has been burning, in myriad ways, for so many years now. Are we going to have the openness of heart to keep choosing the new instead of stubbornly clinging to the bad old days because we’d rather the devil we know? How are we going to honor the sacrifice of all these lives?
Lastly, I wanted to give a HT to the wonderful sisters of @mansion.reed for sharing the words of Ross Gay, one of the poets who got me through my dark time. When I shared his beautiful tribute to Eric Garner with some friends in NYC, they revealed they were also planting seeds and tending to life, indoors and out, internally and externally, growing gardens for themselves and others. The crazier the world gets, the more destruction abounds, the more it makes sense for me just to keep loving on the Earth and being on the growing and balanced side of life.