Voices Matter

Dear America,

It’s been a rough summer.  Okay, I know that’s a major understatement.  It’s been a heartbreaking, gut wrenching, “who are we and what are we doing” kind of summer.  It’s been a summer where we’re afraid to turn on the television for fear of finding out someone else has died because of fear and hatred.  It’s been the kind of summer where we don’t know what to say, so we either say everything or nothing at all.  I’ve been going back and forth between saying too much and saying too little, and I know that’s because I don’t really know what to say.

As a straight white woman, what do I say when a disturbed man shoots up a gay nightclub?  What do I say when I watch a video of a man dying while his girlfriend and her daughter sit stock still with a gun pointed at them?  What do I say when I hear screams of peaceful protesters in Dallas as the officers there to protect them are gunned down?  I hear so many voices talking about all of this, and some of them are speaking truth and life.  Some of them are screaming fear and hatred. Does my voice even matter in the cacophony of chatter here?  Does yours?

We have to confront a very real issue in all of this.  Not only prejudice and privilege, but perspective.  Can we agree at this point that we are not one, America?  My experience has been vastly different than my black and brown brothers and sisters, and very different from my LGBTQ friends.  I have stories they don’t have, and they have stories I don’t.  There is no one perspective that is true here.  We are all seeing this stuff through the filters of our own backgrounds and upbringing, our religion, our race, and our experience.  It seems to me that my voice may not matter so much as how much I’m listening and what I’m doing with what I learn.  If I approach the events of this summer with the question of “What do I say?” then I’m missing the much more important question of “How can I listen?”  I know what my perspective is.  I’ve been living it for thirty years.  Maybe it’s time I listen to someone else for once.

That being said, my voice is important when it comes to my circle of influence.  For people who get paid to be talking heads on television, that’s a big circle.  And shame on them (yep, all of them) for not using their influence more wisely.  For me, that circle starts with my kids.

I woke up the Saturday morning after my thirtieth birthday, and it seemed like the whole world was on fire.  I watched video after video over and over of people being killed.  I cannot tell you how wrecked I was, particularly by the image of the four year old girl in the backseat telling her mamma it would be okay.  I sat at the kitchen table with my kids that afternoon, and we had a conversation about why mommy was so sad.  I reminded them of the man who had a dream that they learned about in school.  I told them “We’ve come a long way, but Dr. King’s dream is still not reality.”  We talked about how the police are supposed to protect us and they usually do.  But sometimes people make the wrong decision.  And when you make the wrong decision with a gun in your hand, people get hurt.  I told them that a lot of people are very afraid right now, and we have the opportunity to show them love and kindness.  And I talked to them about what it means to be an advocate for people who otherwise have no voice.

I wish that’s all it took.  I wish mothers and fathers having those conversations at the kitchen table could fix it right now, and no one else would ever have to die.  We have some hard work to do, America.  Unfortunately, this conversation won’t be over for a very long time.  But maybe we can make some difference when we use our voices collectively to speak truth and life.

Last week, I watched another man shot and killed for no good reason.  And I’m so tired of hearing “All Lives Matter” when clearly they don’t.  It’s been awhile since I’ve written much of anything, but I sat down and wrote this that night.

Now I lay them down to sleep,
praying that their souls will keep.
Will they have sweet dreams tonight,
or will they remember more
of what went wrong
than right?

Am I teaching them what’s most important,
to love big and care for the poor and the orphan?
Or does my selfishness
come through
the carefully constructed belief I’m trying to live?

(God, I don’t have enough time to give)

Down to the minute,
I’m in the middle of it,
their education, my occupation, bills and meals, meetings and practices,
it’s all so overwhelming.

And I wonder,
did I make every moment count today,

or is it enough that we survived?

I turn on the news and see the tears of yet
another mother whose child
didn’t survive.

And I wonder, what kind of world are my kids growing up in?
Someday, will they say,
“I remember when…”

Remember when it seemed like we were getting there?
It wasn’t perfect, but we were trying. You didn’t hear about all these people dying.

But I guess they were.

It was easy not to think about it
when we didn’t have to see it,
’cause now we pull our cell phones out and get video evidence
when something bad happens.

My six year old thought he saw a picture of a hero today,
I wish that’s what he’d seen.

There was a time when I would have been proud to see
a woman who looked like me
on the news in uniform.
But not today.
Today, I had to tell him about how she made the wrong decision and now,
someone doesn’t have a daddy anymore.

And we mourn
with those
who mourn.

I lay them down to sleep,
and I pray their souls will keep.

Because my son’s best friend
has darker skin than him.



Listen to their stories.  Tell them yours.  Love one another.  Maybe we can finally be great, America.  Maybe we can make the dream come true.






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