When Pandemics Are Not Enough

Someone I’ve never met, but who’s friends with several folks I know posted something he thought was funny this morning. It was a “joke”
about his desire to be able to afford “riot tourism.” While this may be tangentially related to his research area, for an educated white guy to have posted this in the midst of uprisings (not riots) against the on camera murder of an unarmed Black man was beyond “tone deaf,” it was infuriatingly disrespectful and callous. (I reacted strongly, suggesting that he perform an impossible anatomical feat of self sexualization, before eliminating him from my list.)

What’s happening now in this country is important. The pandemic showed the ongoing apartheid in healthcare, housing, income, and employment in ways that have made it obvious to even the most oblivious and insulated people in our society. The most recent in a steady stream of murders ,of another, unarmed Black man, (George Floyd) already cuffed and on the ground, was the final straw. Furthermore, the realization that many people have been more upset by damage done to property than the on screen murder of a human being has not only added fuel to the raging flames, it has also corroborated what The Children of Captive Nations have been saying for 528 years.

When my son was about two years old, I was feeding him dinner when I heard a lot of activity in the hallway of the apartment building I lived in. I was a recently single parent at the time, living in a cheap walk up in what was back then a rough area of Park Slope on St. Mark’s & 5th.
I heard running and boots on the stairs, followed by loud banging and shouts of “Police, open up”
Too surprised to be scared, (I’d descended from a more middle class lifestyle and neighborhood and didn’t yet know certain aspects of my vulnerability ) I opened the door and saw a number of cops upstairs and downstairs, with two facing me at my door.
They proceeded to tell me they were looking for someone (the perpetually sought after Black dude, of course) and to ask who was in the house with me. By this time some fear had made its way to my brain and I replied that it was just me & my little son. They demanded to enter, even though I said, “He’s two!” “We have to see him, we have to see for ourselves” said the Black officer as his white partner peered aggressively over me, weapon at the ready.
They entered, with me trying to keep ahead of them, so my son would see me first, and not two heavily armed, frightening strangers in our kitchen.

This is the fearsome Black guy that they saw:


The Black officer politely thanked me, but the silent white cop just turned away, his disappointment showing clearly on his face as he moved quickly towards the door, in pursuit of that “Black guy.”

That was the first time for my son. Only his first, far from his last. It was not mine. I remember my brother and his friend, maybe 8 or 9, climbing on the roof of the Post Office across from our house, to retrieve a ball they’d pitched or hit onto the roof. I remember the cops grabbing them and taking them to the Fourth Precinct in Jersey City, even though both kids lived on the block, our mothers were home, and they could have knocked on our door, especially since I told them my mother was there.

I remember my mother’s fury as she marched down the street to retrieve her child and give the cops a piece of her mind. I didn’t get all of what the grown ups talked about that evening, but I heard them saying that “a white child would’ve been brought home to his parents” for punishment. And I heard the mingled fury and fear and relief as they talked on into the night. I’d be much older before I understood the depths of their relief and the reasons for it.

Like every Black, Native, Latinx, or other mother of colour, or any conscious person who loves someone of colour, I’m forever traumatized, forever vigilant, forever clear about where we stand in this country as “non-whites.” I sleep through the night only on the occasions that my son, his family, and I are all under the same roof, and I’m honestly not entirely unhappy that Covid-19 has him working from home, safely away from the negative possibilities that are a daily reality for Black and Brown people in this country. My son is a person of stature, but none of his education or awards, nor the fact that he is one of the best men I’ve ever known, would mean a thing if a police officer, or almost any random racist white person with a weapon or a weaponized phone, decided to target him, or my brothers, or nephews, nieces, loved ones.

And I know that like a Mr. Smith in a Matrix movie, pretty much any seemingly benign white person is a latent, potential racist threat. That liberal, educated white woman who was prepared to frame a Black man and put his life at risk because he had the audacity to question her right as a white person to break leash laws is the perfect example, but it’s most certainly not the only one.

This isn’t an intellectual or academic exercise to me, and I question your humanity if that’s all it is to you. If you could watch any of the now numerous videos of weaponless Black/Brown people being assaulted or murdered but show more concern for property, or judge their character, or even activities in the face of brutality, you are an immoral, soulless person.

Talking back to white people/requesting that they leash their pets/possible petty fraud/theft/driving/jogging/eating/watching tv/being in a group, etc. are NOT felonies. But guess what? Even if they are, the law says that people are innocent until proven guilty, entitled to representation, a fair trial, and a verdict before any form of punishment can be meted out, and that police are neither jury, nor judge, nor executioners, by law. You don’t have to like or approve of a person for them to merit these basic protections under the laws of the land and the rules of basic human morality. And if that’s a problem, it’s you who are in the wrong country, not We, the People.

BLISS

Love begets Love. When I found out that I was pregnant, I saw a constellation of stars. It was as though I had a window into cosmic bliss, experiencing joy like I never knew existed. Whatever my shortcomings as a parent, my son was wanted, loved, and the source of the greatest joy and grace I’d experienced. If I have in any way become a better person, it is because of him.

He was always his own person: a kind, protective, funny, and serious little soul. He is that rare person who can be completely in the moment and who always knew when he was in a good time and always expressed gratitude. Precocious, often wise, occasionally harsh, always supportive, he remains the person who can make me laugh to tears and of whom I am most proud. He has become a man I am happy to know and glad to consider a friend as well as a good son and great family man.

When he walked down the aisle to marry his most beloved, uniting our families, and lovingly accompanied by my own dear father, I thought I would burst with happiness. As I turned to see the generations of both families and felt my Mother’s blessing, I knew that indeed, the Circle was unbroken.

It has been a wonder to watch them grow as individuals and become even closer as a couple over the years. They had suffered quietly for years, using every means possible to sustain a pregnancy, always having their dreams dashed. They carried that sadness with grace until finally being advised to give up.

I didn’t, and I made ceremony at home, entreating my ancestors and hers. Earlier, they had joined me on a fieldwork trip, where the most respected elders chastised me for having only one child, but then took my boy aside and blessed him. Magical thinking? Yes, but I held the hope that the charms or just the way that people eventually relax after letting go of disappointment sometimes results in a “miracle.” Meanwhile, we looked into adoption and other options, knowing that any child that came to us would be OUR child, wanted and loved.

A few months later, I asked my son -a tv producer- to film an event I was chairing at the college where I taught, and he agreed. It was rare at that point for us to be able to get together outside of regular family visits, so I was especially happy to have a few hours with my son and to show him off to my colleagues. After setting up the cameras and staging areas, he suggested we take a break before the activities started and people poured in. Sitting in the dark and quiet auditorium, he put his arm around me and pulled something out of his duffle, saying he wanted me to see something and handing me what looked like a photograph. It was a sonogram of his daughter, my granddaughter, somehow already resembling her Dad at this early stage.

If I thought the heavens opened when he was conceived, I can tell you that the entire universe sang at that moment. I can count on one hand the number of times I have wept from pure, uncontainable joy, and that moment is the most memorable. My serious, often somber child, was lit up like a million Christmas trees, Times Square at night, and the Aurora Borealis in spring. For the next several months (and ever since) I was to see the deep dimples he has when smiling, every single day.

I’m here to tell you that Life presents us with many opportunities and occasions for happiness. When I conceived and again when it was confirmed, I experienced unexpected joy. My life has not been an easy one and joy was not my companion, so its visits were always special, appreciated, and noted. I didn’t know that anything could make me happier than my own child had, but I’m here to tell you that the joy of seeing my child’s happiness made my heart open up a whole new chamber. I went back into the gala in a haze of joy, my face swollen from the happy tears we’d shared and my brain on autopilot for the rest of that wonderful night.

And then she was born, and again, my joy was for their joy: my son and the beautiful soul he’d brought into our lives through love and marriage, the woman who made him aspire to greatness, and laugh, who brought out his silly side, and for whom he felt pride and gratitude. This beautiful couple were finally graced with the child they so wanted and who had- artiste that she is- built up this tremendous anticipation before gracing us with her presence on the stage of Life. Our little star was born and my heart was overwhelmed with love for this person who made my children so happy.

But then somehow, my heart expanded even further as this little blissball grew, and I loved her for herself, this shining, bright eyed wonder whose face danced with aspects of everyone I’d loved in my family, along with features from her gorgeous mother. And as she has grown, new heart chambers have emerged to accommodate my Bliss, as well as heart rooms for all of the new friends and family who’ve come into our lives because of this once tiny seed of love.

So that’s it. I just wanted to say that Love is real. It’s precious and fine and often illusive and illusionary because we humans are basically assholes with legs who tend to miss our own good times or screw them up by trying to capture, control, or otherwise change what is. It’s painful in its absence and wrenching in loss. But sometimes (perhaps as a reward for good deeds but likely for no particular reason at all) we are *blessed* with Love, true and abiding. I think that we are never exactly “deserving” as it’s popularly put, but we are graced with it and made better by it and we should cherish it. Always.

And so for me, each and every year that I live, this date is the Second Day of Bliss and Gratitude and I give thanks for my gifts of Love, from the bottom of my now endlessly expanding heart.