Life and death are unmanageable. We can't change it, but we can accept it. Breathe. So sayeth the Dharma talks and the Whole Foods tote bags.
I was thinking about this when I read about Demario Bailey, a fifteen-year-old Chicago teen who was shot in the chest while trying to keep his twin brother from being robbed of his coat in December.
Actually I was thinking about his mother. It's not Demario that I have trouble envisioning. I can, for some reason, easily imagine his last moments. The terror, heat, pain, sound of cars and screams fading as melting snow drips from the rusted joints of the aqueduct above your head. Maybe it's because I've also looked down the barrel of a few guns and imagined my own death.
But his mother. I can't imagine how she finds acceptance. How she breathes.
Acceptance is graceful and romantic when what you are accepting is failure to find a parking spot near a yoga class or, failure to get accepted into a PhD program.
But when what you are accepting is that your child, whom you have loved, and raised, and supported, and cooked for, and disciplined and yelled at, who is good, and responsible, and lazy, and loving, and goofy, and funny, and annoying, and incorrigible, can have his life-the life you gave him -- taken, just 15 years into it, by a group of strangers, other peoples' sons, in broad daylight, for no real reason, then acceptance is neither a noble, nor zen, nor peaceful proposition.
It is the death of the spirit.
They say it was over a jacket.
But they lie. No one shoots anyone in the heart over a jacket.
Gunshots in the heart are over power. They are over fear. They are over despair. They are over hatred for oneself and one's place in the world. They are over an inability to connect to what is left of your humanity because that human, that child, that heart that beats within you, has no safe place in your reality. That's what you shoot someone in the heart over. An inability to be human. Not a jacket.
When I told a friend I was writing to honor the life and death of Demario Bailey, she said. "Was he shot by police?"
"No. An attempted robbery"
"Oh. So it was just a regular..."
And here she trailed off. We both sat and thought about what that means. A regular shooting of a black teen. Not a political one. A regular one. No hashtag. No protest. Just a run of the mill...
What separates the death of a teen at the hands of another teen from the death of a teen at the hands of police? Do we view them differently? Should we?
All I know is that when a 15 year old is murdered and we think of it as a regular anything, then we are in an awful awful place.
I began my research for this article by looking at images of Demario. It was about a page into results before I began to see the low-key racist stuff. ("I bet they won't be protesting this") One page later I got to a site called something like Chimpland which handled Demario's death exactly how you might imagine it. Here was a site devoted entirely to venting racist stuff about black people. It wasn't even hateful. It was more than hateful. It was loving. Like you have to love black people, in some way, to spend so much time and energy hating them.
I read it for 20 minutes.
Everyone who knows me knows I always read the racist stuff. Sure, it makes my stomach hurt, and disrupts my sleep. But I do it because it helps me understand. At the root of racism, I believe, is the seed for all of our destruction and suffering. I want to, maybe need to, understand it.
And it helps. Because this is what I realized this time:
There is a very simple and obvious connection between liberal MLK-quoting whites, power hungry trigger-and-baton happy police, flag-waving Klansmen, and black teens who shoot each other in the heart under South Side aqueducts on mild winter days.
None of these people will accept black people as angry, or smart, or flawed, or vulnerable.
None of these people will accept black people has human.
In thinking about Demario Bailey's life, all I can think of is how grossly ill-equipped we are as a society to allow black people to live, to flourish. To be.
So what CAN we do to honor the life of Demario Bailey?
Let a black person be human. No matter what race you are, let a black person be human. Let a black person be honest, let a black person be flawed. Let a black person be angry. Let a black person be complex. Let a black person be loved. Let a black person be safe. Let a black person be alive.
Let a black person be human.
For anything less there can be no acceptance.
This post is part of the "28 Black Lives That Matter" series produced by The Huffington Post for Black History Month. Each day in February, this series will shine a spotlight on one African-American individual who made headlines in 2014 -- mostly in circumstances we all wished had not taken place. This series will pay tribute to these individuals and address the underlying circumstances that led to their unfortunate outcomes. To follow the conversation on Twitter, view #28BlackLives -- and to see all the posts as part of our Black History Month coverage, read here.