I miss my son. In my better moments I smile with gratitude for the 18 years I've been granted with this remarkable young person. In my more wistful moments I tear up, yearning for a quick hug as he passes through the kitchen as I cooked his breakfast, or longing to hear a nonchalant "Hi, Mom" as he runs with friends down to the family room after school. I weep at odd moments -- like looking in his bedroom with the simultaneous mementos of early childhood and adolescence, or going to the museum and my mind's eye seeing his earnest childhood self, running with discovery.
But my son is very much alive... at college. The 11-hour journey felt like a lifetime. I steeled myself, knowing this is what I've raised him for... but wishing for a little bit more time. I reveled with friends on Facebook or via texts as we compared notes, rejoicing in front of our children and keeping the tears private. One friend offered the analogy that we give our children safe harbor -- that they can return whenever the storms get too big. I mustered my mother-wisdom and confidently offered this insight to my son. He smiled and winked and said, "Yes, mom, but ships were not made for harbors."
The week I helped my son pack and do the last minute shopping, dozens of friends flocked to Ferguson, MO to support the people in their protestations and demands for justice. I yearned to be there -- but knew that my job that week was to launch my son well into the future that God has planned for him.
At the moments that it felt like the grief was overwhelming my capacity to breathe with any sense of normalcy I reminded myself repeatedly -- I have the privilege of bringing this brilliant child to college. This privilege that has been denied to the mothers of Jordan Davis... of Trayvon Martin... of Michael Brown... of Emmett Till...
I'm not at all clear when our nation will have the courage to acknowledge with most African-American mothers have always known -- our nation is not safe for their sons. As I write those words I want to couch them to make them more palatable... but the fear that every Black mother knows is a fear that I, as a white mom, will never know.
Years ago when my son was in junior high, I went down to the family room to see that he and his friends were watching a movie that I would not have approved of (and they knew it). I challenged them regarding this casual viewing of violence. And then I educated them about why violence is nothing to disregard... and in the context of this conversation we talked about Emmett Till. None of the boys (except my son) had heard of Emmett Till. I told them about a 14-year-old boy who went down South, who was accused of something, who was taken from his family's home in the middle of the night, and was brutally murdered. I told them of his mother's courage in making the nation look at her son -- and I showed them the photos that Jet Magazine showed the nation.
In Keith Beauchamp's brilliant film The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till, he interviews reporter Dan Wakefield who spoke of jars in the drug store and the dry cleaner to collect money for the defense of the two men who were charged with the murder of Emmett Till -- and I thought of people collecting money for the police officer who killed Mike Brown. As I re-watched the movie on August 28 (the anniversary of Emmett Till's murder, which occurred in 1955) and viewed the footage of white people explaining that there wouldn't be a problem if Black folks would stop "trying to make something big out of something" I reflected on my courageous friends in Ferguson.
Dr. King wrote in "Letter from Birmingham Jail":
More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.
He wrote this in April of 1963, four months before the anniversary of the murder of Emmett Till. That anniversary was marked by the "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom." I reflect on his words when I join with others in a prayer found in the "Book of Common Prayer" -- "We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done."
On our way to bringing my son to college we listened to Les Miserables and the prayer sung as a young man was to go to war:
"Bring him peace
Bring him joy
He is young
He is only a boy
You can take
You can give
Let him be
Let him live"
Mothers have relinquished their boys to demarcations of manhood for centuries, whether it be going to college or the armed services. No woman should ever have to release their son to hate -- and that is what our nation has required of Black women for too long in our nation.
The morning we drove back home from bringing my son to college, I posted this on Facebook:
This morning I am returning home from bringing my 18-year-old son to college. This morning Mike Brown's parents are burying their 18-year-old son. The hate and fear that murdered their son is endemic in our nation. The truth is that most of my friends who are African-American are in mourning... and too few of the rest of the nation will notice. Ella Baker's words from 1964 are more true than ever: "Until the killing of black men -- black mothers' sons -- becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother's son, we who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens." We have a lot of work to do, friends.