Friday, July 8, 2016

Grief as a tool for change

Please note, this post is more a letter to myself than anything else. Like all of us, I am struggling with what to say as our country, our world becomes more and more divided, racist and violent. 

I'm struggling with what to say this morning. On Fridays I usually write about grief and my journey through widowhood, but that seems so trivial in light of the events over the last few days. What do I write about? What can I possibly say? I closed my eyes and took some deep breaths, listening for any kind of answer, and the wise voice in my head said, "Write about grief." Of course. I thought I had said everything I needed to say about guns, violence and loss here, after Newtown. I was wrong.

Right now we are a nation, a world, in a paroxysm of grief, much of it being expressed as rage and as feelings of helplessness. We are collectively grieving not only the deaths of so many but our own pain at a society that seems to have completely failed to protect us, to protect those who are systematically oppressed, to build a just world in which to live and raise our children, to have a functional system of law enforcement where to serve and protect is the first mandate not violent reaction.

I cannot stop thinking about the families of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. I cannot stop thinking about their communities. Likewise, I can't stop thinking about the ruined lives of the police officers who, through some combination of poor training, fear, and likely racism, fired their guns when they should have asked the next question. I can't stop thinking about the families of the five police officers killed in Dallas. I cannot stop wondering who will be next.

While I am lucky and have never had to contend with sudden death, I know the emptiness and pain that will become their constant companions. I can only imagine grieving in the media spotlight will make everything harder.

Grief is a kind of madness. I've written about that before. It can make us do glorious things, like build movements for peaceful change, like campaign and vote for what we believe in, like change the world. It can make us do horrible things, like answer with an eye for an eye, like react out of our fear and pain, like make vast assumptions about others based on no real information at all.

Grief is a transformational process. I hope and pray that we use this horrific moment to move towards better questions and answers. I hope we use this moment to take a hard look at a system that builds so much fear into its training that shooting someone is a first reaction and not a last. I hope we are able to reach out of our own pain, grasp hands that may not look like ours but clutch just as hard, and find a way to peacefully say enough.

I don't believe I have any kind of right to tell people of color what to do, how to channel their grief, in this moment. I can listen. I can be an ally. I can stand with them. I can acknowledge my own privilege and try to use it to create change.

Personally, I have to do something. I will attend rallies. I will reach out to communities of color and ask what can be done. I will reach out to law enforcement in my community and volunteer my time to see how we can change the story. And I will hold space for those whose grief is justifiably much greater than mine. Because I don't know what else to do.

(c)2016 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

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True Stories, Honest Lies by Laura S. Packer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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