Caring for Death

"Such a caring for death, an awakening that keeps vigil over death, a conscience that looks death in the face, is another name for freedom." ― Jacques Derrida in The Gift of Death

Today scant bits of turkey remain. Shoppers go at it again in a frenzied day after Black Friday. In Paris words reverberate after the national pause for those massacred by those who did not care for death, but instead treated it as a tactic and a cheap way in to some greater power. In Chicago a slightly cold and cloudy day follows a night of focused response to the 16 shots that took 17 year old Laquan McDonald's life 14 months ago; earlier in the day a man was arrested who took 9 year old Tyshawn Lee from a playground to an alley to execute him. In Colorado Springs Robert Dear waged a one man assault on police officers and health care workers and patients alike.

Here in St Louis, we lead the nation with the highest homicide rate. Since Paris, a hotel in Bamako was attacked and as many as a thousand Syrian people have been killed. All around this world and within our communities, death is not cared for as it should be; there are too few vigils, too many muted consciences, most of us are looking away, and so, we are sadly lacking basic human freedom.

Freedom in the face of death is lived differently. Lived freedom does not deny death by shouting death to the demonized others. Lived freedom does not deny dignity by asserting privilege for only our kind. Lived freedom does not treat hate speech as campaign rhetoric or poverty as a policy issue. Lived freedom is not freedom from but freedom for; freedom for others, the stranger, the vulnerable, the ones who we find hardest to embrace. Coming face to face with the death of our localized ways and biases means awakening to ways that live freedom for all. It is our only hope when we face the end of what is familiar and look to what is beyond. It is how we truly live forward.

If our leaders spoke freedom, we would hear a recognition that the twilight of this day, this time, this epoch is to be met first with an acknowledgement that the old ways have passed. In our communities, voices of freedom would admit to an ending ahead of the premature proclamation of new beginnings. In our own lives, punching through to the next thing, the newest way, the novel insight would come only after the vigil. Our collective and individual consciences would be shaped not by defiant xenophobia and flaccid self-assertions, but instead be animated by the deep awe and fuller clarity of looking what is and what is not squarely in the eye. Again quoting Derrida, we would find freedom by "looking death in the face."

And, Death will look back. In its eyes we will see that our stubborn refusal to see others does not mean that the others are not there. Death's fixed gaze becomes immovable and unavoidable. Being simply plain-speakers, patriots, righteous or enraged keeps us from keeping the vigil. Caring for death means caring that 9 year olds and 17 years are shot dead. It means contemplating the horror of Parisian concert goers being gunned down.. It means sitting in sorrow and silence in the face of 3 dead in Colorado Springs and the unrelenting march of murder through the streets of St Louis, Chicago, Baga and Paris. Caring for death also means facing displaced Syrians and gun violence not as a policy or a position but as a powerful awakening, a call to conscience; a conscience that comes from caring for death.