Archive for November, 2014

Black Lives Don’t Count

My best friend in the world is an African-American woman who teaches at a city college in Chicago, and when I asked her what she thought of the verdict in the indictment of Officer Darren Wilson, charging that he used an unlawful amount of lethal force against Michael Brown, a boy who stole cigars from a convenience store, she said with some bitterness, “Black lives don’t count.” She later called back, and tempered her response, still not negating what she had previously said, but acknowledging that we need to find a peaceable way to protest injustice.

The fury driving minority communities seems to be the recognition that they are not seen as fully human, deserving of the recognition afforded any white citizen in the community. Shortly after the verdict, President Obama spoke to our citizens, saying, “We are a nation built on the rule of law, so we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make.”

Indeed, we have come a long way since the 1960’s, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have miles to go still, seeking equality for all in terms of how we are treated. St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch, in his lengthy statement, never once mentioned that Michael Brown was unarmed, and his whole presentation style came across as belligerent, self-serving, and inflammatory. While any decision of this kind doesn’t justify a violent response, it’s pretty clear that people who are not so privileged as to be born white are frustrated with their second-class citizenship status.

The jury of nine whites and three blacks met on twenty-five occasions over the period of three months, but it seems to me that the system is still fundamentally broken. Watching the tear gas canisters spread through the crowds made me feel that I was in a different time or even in a different country. I don’t know how many people reading this remember the black and white images from the sixties of black men and women being sprayed with firehouses or having German Shepard dogs sicced on them, but suffice it to say that things got out of control, and fast. There were 61 arrests in Ferguson for burglary and trespassing, and again, I in no way condone that response, but I understand the feeling that we are simply not all equal under the law.

Officer Darren Wilson made an impulsive decision in the flurry of the moment, and no doubt, given the public outcry, he probably regrets the degree of force he used. He will have to live with his decision to take a life over a couple of stolen cigars, but I personally believe in the Maya Angelou dictum: “We do the best we can, and when we know better, we do better.”

Let’s hope that Michael Brown’s death wasn’t completely in vain because I fear it was.


The measure of success

About a month ago, I celebrated my forty-fifth birthday, vastly different from my twenty-fifth. I remember I ushered in my mid-twenties with a drunken night that started out at my house, but migrated to the bars so as to be seen by as many people as possible. I used to count my level of success based on how many people I knew, and how many people I could cajole into coming to my birthday celebration, but the times, they have changed. In April I celebrated seven years sober, and though I threw myself a birthday party this year, it was more about the quality of friends I had in attendance, not the quantity.

There’s a great little independent bookstore near me that hands out bookmarks with your purchases, and on that slip of paper is a saying by someone named A. Cowley, “May I have a few friends and many books, both true.”

I’ve also been reading a book by the Chicago Tribune critic Chris Jones about the history of Chicago theater, titled, “Bigger, Brighter, Louder, and it said, “We make a great stir upon our individual ant-hills, and try to convince ourselves and our fellow ants struggling along with their burdens that there never was such an ant as we, but somehow, when some bright day we go out of sight under the hill we have piled up, the other ants don’t mind it much, but go trudging along over us just as usual.”

I think one of the very hardest things we have to reconcile ourselves to is the inevitability of our own mortality. For me, I believe we are only truly dead when no one no longer remembers us. It’s important that we make our time matter in ways that are individually meaningful. And if we can live our lives with a sense of style in the process, all the better.

All right, I admit it. I started listening to Christmas carols in the car, shortly after Ellen DeGeneres advertised her new Christmas cd, available only at Target, aptly titled, The Only Christmas Album You’ll Ever Need, Volume One. After listening to Stevie Wonder’s rendition of One Little Christmas Tree a number of times, I branched out and bought the new Motown Christmas cd as well as the Mary J. Blige Christmas cd, featuring a great rendition of Mary Did You Know?

I have friends who consider me a bit of a simpleton to still believe in God. To them, the concept of God is similar to Santa Claus, something you outgrow as you mature. It’s kind of frowned upon by some intellectuals who seek an answer within rational determinism. One acquaintance considers people who put their faith in a power greater than themselves weak for their lack of self sufficiency.

I find, however, that what matters in the grand scheme of things is my interconnectedness and interdependence on others, and I still find myself startled into silence by a starry night. I feel blessed to have been given the gift of life, and blessed to have others with whom I can share my joy.

It may be a little early to crank up the Christmas tunes. It’s even possible, according to some individuals, that Jesus was born in April, not December, and that what has been co-opted is a pagan mid-winter festival holiday, adopted by Christians to better mark the season leading up to Lent, and to better differentiate Christ’s birth from His resurrection.

Frankly, it doesn’t matter too much to me whether we have the exact day correct on our calendar. What matters most to me is that we enter the winter season with a spirit of generosity in our hearts, and that we are open to receiving the grace of God, and the many blessings of the Christmas season.