I have really been struggling this month. There are so many questions I just don’t have the answers for these days.
My precious nephew Cole Austin died a month ago, for reasons no clearer today than they were then. My son wants to know why Cole hurt himself, and my daughter wants to know why Jesus “took him” from her. It is hard to explain to Little Son that we don’t know why and probably never will. But my son is secure in his knowledge that Cole is now happy, whole and in Heaven. Bodacious, not so much. It is hard to explain to a 4-year-old that her father and I do not believe that God “takes” people any more than we believe God “lets” terrible things happen to us. But I have to remember that she has a child’s very literal Sunday school view of God. God sent the flood to cleanse the earth. God gave Jesus to Mary. Jesus cried out to God on the cross, to no avail. So I understand why she thinks God, like some cruel child who steals a favorite toy away on the playground, took Cole away from us. We have tried to explain to her that she feels grief and loss – that we all do. That we probably will for a long time, and that being sad is ok.
But there has been so much to make me sad this month. Last week, as the kids and I sat eating breakfast at a hotel in Texarkana, we watched the live news coverage leading up to the eulogy of slain South Carolina pastor Rev. Clementa Pinckney. A foot away, the black family at the table next to us was watcing the television as intently as my son.
The anchor led us through photos of Dylann Roof holding his Confederate battle flag then later photos of him smirking at cameras. Next we saw courtroom clips of the families of his victims offering Roof their forgiveness. Tears streamed down my face at both the senseless violence and the amazing grace that people showed him. The anchor recounted all the information that had been gathered on Roof and the shootings, and I silently prayed that my son would not ask me an endless round of questions.
Big eyes, solemn face. “Why did that boy shoot the reverend and his friends?” he asked.
Why indeed, sweet boy. Why? I struggled for words. Because I don’t know. What on earth could motivate someone to shoot nine people to death at a church Bible study? I cannot fathom it or rationalize it, it is heartbreaking. I finally told him that I believe Roof is sick, sick in his brain and sick in his heart. I am trying to choose my words carefully. He is only 6. I want to explain racism to my son but I don’t want him to understand it yet. I want him to know there are mean people, but I don’t want him to know about evil people yet. Right now, my beautiful little boy thinks we are all the same because we are all human beings, all children of God. He and his sister have a rainbow of friends and I think it will break his heart to know that people are murdered over the color of their skin.
I was uncomfortable talking about my opinions on racism in front of a black family and then I was embarrassed because I was uncomfortable. I didn’t want to make eye contact with them, drag them into my awkward explanations of hatred and evil. I didn’t know them or their personal experiences, they did not know me. But I believe in good manners, and I generally try not to make other people uncomfortable if I can help it. Best not to talk about it, keep voices low and answers short.
Perhaps that is part of the problem we’re having these days, too much political correctness, too much fear, a general inability to have open and honest conversations about race, poverty and equality. Part of me, if I am being totally honest here, is also afraid to know what some people really think about these things.
What if I think less of them? Will I have to unfriend them on Facebook or, worse, in real life? Will I no longer be able to shop in their stores or participate in their lives? Because then I will really know them. And they will really know me. Sometimes, there is a very real price to pay for practicing what you preach.
Honest conversations about serious issues force us to examine how we really feel and act, how we model those beliefs to our children. And if we don’t find some way to come together, no matter how uncomfortable or painful, this cancerous ignorance will only continue to spread.
On the way to the car, we pass by the television again. This time, the announcer tells us that the US Supreme Court is expected to legalize same sex marriage that day. Head slap, thank you CNN. Please oh please oh please, don’t ask me what sex is or where babies come from!
“What does same sex marriage mean, Momma?”
“It means a man can marry a man or a woman can marry a woman, Son.”
“That’s silly, isn’t it Momma? We have always thought it was ok.”
Finally. An easy question to answer.
“Yes, Son. That is silly. We have always thought it was ok.”