Like plastic and cockroaches, at the end of the world, there will be the pain that humans have incurred. Because what we do to one another is never the end. Like a contagious virus, hurt spreads. It multiplies. And expands and splashes and pings off and lands elsewhere, and sometimes it explodes.
This piece isn’t about me (other disclaimer: it contains way too many competing metaphors). I’ve been so incredibly fortunate with my family, my husband, my friends, my people. I’ve pretty much always been equipped to handle the hurt that’s handed to me, by my kids, strangers, whomever and if it ever felt too hard to receive the secondary trauma of my job, I’ve had yoga, therapy, acupuncture, writing. I repeat–I am so fortunate. But not everyone is.
If you’re interested in crime and social justice and Sarah Koenig’s voice (like I am) Serial Season 3 did not hardly get enough buzz and it deserves your ears. In it, Sarah and her team–all of whom seem to have equally difficult-to-spell last names–go to East Cleveland and cover court proceedings for weeks. Why don’t I know who any of the waiflike musical acts on SNL are? Because who has time for pop culture when there are enthralling crime podcasts to listen to?
In episode three of this season of Serial, there’s one bit of dialogue I couldn’t, and still can’t, get out of my head. It’s spoken by a civil rights attorney, Paul Cristallo, who previously represented the Cleveland Police Department. Sarah and team cover a small core of men who are in the grips of the criminal justice system. “In the grips” honestly feels like the best way of describing it because CPD won’t let them go and none of it feels fair or positive or just or even clear. It’s so damn messy.
In the exchange below, Erimius is the man in the grips and this is the 137 shots case in which Cristallo represented one of the families. What resonates with me in the exchange below is the stickiness of the hate that’s been thrown. Cristallo articulates something I think often–that hurt and hate and injustice don’t just absorb into the earth after they’re flung. And the evils we allow to perpetuate, will do just that.
“Erimius’s case is an order of magnitude smaller than the 137 shots case or the Tamir Rice case. No one’s going to shout his name during a protest. Paul told me, the smaller cases, they matter because they ricochet.
He’s watched a lot of people go through incidents like this. He says, this beating will knock around inside Erimius’s head, and then it will rebound off of him out into the city.
You know, as much as you want to talk about how we need to come together as a society. And Black Lives Matters, and All Life Matters. And the police have a hard job. And you got to listen to what the police tell you to do. And you got to obey the law, and don’t be a criminal.
I mean, the reality is now, you’ve just created somebody who is, I mean, he’s this walking perpetuation of don’t trust the police. He now knows that that happened, and all he had on him was a blunt in his own apartment complex. In his own apartment complex—not late at night. No drugs, no alcohol, no gun, no criminal activity, but the blunt. And that’s what happened to him.
This will mess with him. If you stick with this story, and we follow him, you’ll see. I mean, it’ll fuck with him. He has family. He has friends. They’re all going to know what happened. They’re all going to see the pictures.
And so for him, now, this becomes part of his life script. This has become something that is going to be retold and retold. And photos are going to be shared and re-shared, you know, on, and on, and on, and on. And this is just one guy. This is just one incident in Euclid, Ohio.”
When a person is hurt by some other person, known or not, some circumstance, some situation he or she is born into, that hurt remains.
Hearing about the shooting at Frederick Douglass High School a week ago, obviously I was saddened and angry and hurting for this city. But I also felt what I always feel when something horrendous happens in Baltimore, I feel the past and the future. I feel that ricochet. Because that single incident, is hardly a single incident. It’s the hurt of the student, his family member, maybe the employee who’s “going to live.” How hurt must you already be to go into a school and shoot an educator? How broken? How confused and pained and angry? That shooter was not born that way. Will he die that way?
An English teacher from Douglass wrote an op-ed about the larger picture here and I agree with him. Look at what we are asking our children to tolerate, and then thrive anyway? What?
From what I’ve read, the shooter at Douglass seems pretty terrible, which comes as no surprise. But this story is like root vegetables before they’re picked. What we see are the leaves, the foliage. What’s beneath is utterly different. And it matters even more than the leaves. The potato, the carrot, the turnip. They’re made of the stuff that happened first, to that once tiny seed as it fought to get bigger. Maybe it was inadequate housing, maybe it was abuse, maybe even the trash on the streets bothered him. How can you think you deserve more when you haven’t been shown that? How can you even know what to reach for?
And like the hurt before February 8, 2019, there’ll be more hurt after as a result of the shooting. It’s like a rock thrown in a pond sending ripples and then another rock into those ripples. Circles of ripples are crashing against one another. It’s enough to drive you mad.
Baggage is hard to carry but it’s even harder to drop off. I don’t have the answer, aside from “be born with a good support system and into a great and stable family” or as Wilbur Wright put it in 1910, “If I were giving a young man advice as to how he might succeed in life, I would say to him, pick out a good father and mother, and begin life in Ohio.”
That’s not easy advice to follow.
What I do have though is more unsolicited advice, one of my favorite things to give out right before I put my foot in my mouth. My advice is to put out the good stuff, to get rid of hate and hurt some other way aside from putting it on someone else. My advice is to remember that the ghastly things that happen in long-maligned neighborhoods are incredibly complex and that some people were never given a real shot at something different and to pretend otherwise is what I now think of as “The Ben Carson Effect.” That it doesn’t mean those neighborhoods and people aren’t capable of more or don’t deserve better, it’s just really fucking hard to obtain it.
So put out the good. Fill others’ buckets instead of emptying them. This might be in complete contradiction of last week’s blog, but why waste breath on something negative? (Thank you to both Erins–Drew and Cyphers-Greenhalgh–for sending me such sentiments.) There’s enough nastiness and ugliness and hurt swirling around, throw the opposite out into the universe.
From my favorite poem “The Desiderata” by Max Ehrmann,
“With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Strive to be happy.”
…And know that not everyone has been given the same chances, the same hope, or the same treatment. So at the end of the world, there will be plastic and there will be cockroaches, but do not let there be hate.