We Can’t Bring Our Children to Water We Don’t Thirst For; Our Relationship with Consistency
A year ago, today, I started writing a blog in the wake of Toni Morrison’s death.
It was the fifth anniversary of the murder of Michael Brown.
Seven weeks ago, I started writing a three-part series that I haven’t yet concluded.
August 9th, 2020, six years after Michael Brown was murdered in Ferguson, Missouri, and on a morning that began with a mass shooting, I attempt to write on investing in consistency.
I’ve been writing a eulogy during August for a friend who died a couple of weeks ago.
I said goodbye to her on a Zoom call, past the point where she could speak back to me, and all I could think was this doesn’t feel real enough.
I’ve learned to lean on the phrase ‘that’s not real’ to convey my own resistance and disbelief.
Sometimes I’m saying, I don’t trust this experience.
Over familiarity, whether from death or murder or heartbreak or tragedy,
illicits sensations like car alarms,
sensitively sounding off and off loudly.
At a certain point the sound rings at a register only those on the outside are startled by,
and my responsiveness slows and even freezes.
For someone whose stress response is mania, slow is an eerie exterior when it pops up.
My eyes struggle not to dilate and blink shut as my restlessness recedes.
I can’t keep up; I’ve grown to interpret.
I hear Toni Morrison’s austerior and yet velvety tone sound in my ear as introspection
to invite more observation.
“This is precisely the time when artists go to work…we speak, we write, we do language,”
Is the quote I’m caught on, brought back into my body and this harsh moment.
What she describes is a creative process yes, but primarily it’s a rote discipline. It’s practiced, deliberately, in the face of every emotion and harm in proximity.
I listen, really listen, and what emerges is a place shattering, and just afterwards particles suspended between gravity and the floor, refracted by the light and sounding first as caught breath in a diaphragm.
She has this way of bringing us to 10,000 feet above first so we can feel the intense aftershock.
August 9th, 2020 is not yet an aftershock, and it’s not a new earthquake.
It’s a story we are becoming over familiar with.
A police officer killing an unarmed Black person.
Black women coming forward to disclose patterns of violence by the state.
Communities without support scrutinized by victim blaming.
Tides of self-delusion preventing collective action for well being.
Justice somehow, still, a vague word.
Communities losing sovereignty and safety to the legacy of colonialism, environmental racism, capitalism, greed, and the fictional war on terror.
The violence is palpable, and it is not an indiscriminate bully.
Within my family relationships, I’ve gotten stuck sometimes, unable to make myself clear enough to change a pattern that wounds.
I haven’t resolved my desired outcomes with choices that are available to me in every case, whether that’s with siblings I’m estranged with, or parents of children I love who have a different relationship with how their actions land.
I compare this to my relationship with being in school, noticing the moments where paradigms diverge without easy bridges.
Recently that looked like having nowhere to go within a framework of business while rejecting capitalism as a monopoly or a good thing.
In other moments it’s looked like being triggered without the words to explain why.
There are decision points that don’t arrive quickly, and there are others that arrive daily.
I was playing the board game Guess Who with two young children this week. In asking yes and no questions to try to guess your “person”, I was asked, “Is your person a girl?”
I responded, “I can’t answer that question.”
My nephew erupted in frustration, tired of what felt to him like ceaseless teachable lessons not mirrored in the myriad cultures, peer groups, and adult interactions he’s a part of daily.
I received his frustration, but I did not move my boundary as I explained, “I want you to be able to relate to an expansive group of people in your life, and to not carry ideas with you that promote lies about bodies. We have to practice all the time living out ideas about bodies that are truer.”
Similarly, my niece and I have been having conversations about police officers, and whether or not they can or should be a part of games we make up. She’s three and a half, and already she distinguishes what she can imagine from what is currently in place, and yet she is asking about the definition of harm.
What makes an action harmful, or an idea influential on how we think, feel and act?
She’s listening not to the response, but to the rationale, trying to follow a consistent thread.
For a different reason, and in a different example set, but my response to her was very similar as in the game of Guess Who.
We practice ideas when we play, and we give our brains room to learn new ideas when we remove sources of harm, and the belief that we need them or want them to exist.
The marketing is so constant, that every new interaction has to reinforce another belief system.
And yet, it’s tempting to replicate the logic that reduces our references to our current arrangements and understandings.
I use the ritual of commemoration with children weekly to talk about death and violence, and my nephew reminds me how quickly he is internalizing that murder and assault are rampant.
Astutely he asks me to offer a compelling reason for why I believe we can prefigure a world that he doesn’t yet see as realistic.
And yet, in his exasperation, within five minutes of a board game he can move from anger to a pivoted question set with support and consistency.
This last piece — with support and consistency — is the aspect of social change work that intrigues me, motivates me, and challenges me.
How do we as Toni Morrison instructs us through her narrative design feel more by analyzing more?
How do we humanize nuance and emotion as we fortify ourselves to start over with every action?
What allows us to devote resources to support and consistency in our application of ideas?
I wonder if part of the answer is learned from children who still ask us better questions than we ask ourselves.
My niece and I drove to the cemetery recently during a funeral about a hundred yards away from us.
She pointed to the blue tent, familiar with the meaning.
She continued, and asked me to tell her about my friend who had just died.
What did she care about?
What did you do together?
Who was she to you?
In her three and a half years, she has practiced reflecting back what she is observing.
In many moments, her consistency exceeds mine, and her support is more precise.
Still though, she mimics what artists know and live; when we can’t keep up, we do healing.
We do healing, and we do justice; both, with support and consistency.