Why now? Why ‘switch sides’ now? Why all of a sudden do I see things differently than I ever have before? It is a good question and one I am asking myself. I know I am making many of my friends uncomfortable. I am uncomfortable myself. Yet, I must proceed. There are several reasons my perspective is changing, but there is one that stands above all the rest.
I am a mom.
When I see George Floyd lying on the ground, hands tied behind his back, I see my sons. As he cries out for his mother, I flashback to my own boys. Rough and tumble, playing, running, jumping, always on the move. I picture the 3 of them and I think of all the falls, the injuries, and the trips to the ER. I remember the pain and the tears that came with it. Skinned knees. Bumped heads. Broken bones. Stitches. But first, before the medical treatment, even before the assessment of the injury, came the heart stopping cry,
That cry strikes fear into the heart of every mom. It is the one that sends adrenaline coursing through my body and has my legs running towards the tears, in an instant. The one that brings me to the scene assessing every detail as I approach, looking for blood, looking for bones sticking out, looking for bumps and bruises. Wondering if this will be ambulance worthy or if a bag of frozen peas will do the trick.
Falling to my knees, I scoop up my child. I draw them close into a hug. I soothe them and rub their hair. I say, “It’s okay. I’m here.” I hold them as they sob. I brush away the tears and the dirt while they cry out in pain. I determine the best course of action, and just by my being there, they are comforted. No matter the seriousness of the injury, they relax into whatever is coming. Because I am there, even pain is lessened.
When I hear George Floyd, my son’s face is superimposed over his in my mind. On his belly, face down, hands tied behind his back, knee on his neck. Crying out, “MOM! HELP!” Only, I am not there. I do not hear his cry. I cannot help. I cannot stop it, and as the breath leaves his lungs, he is alone under the weight. The oppressive weight of a knee on his neck. His last breath, a whisper to me for help. His last wish, a cry for my comfort.
The distress cry is universal. Moms everywhere know it from the time their baby is born. In a way, it unites us. Across borders and classes. Beyond color and age. The stirring in a mom’s heart when she hears it, no matter who utters it, is a deep instinct to protect. When we hear it, we will put ourselves in harm’s way to prevent pain for the one who cries out. It doesn’t even have to be our own child. The instinct cannot be turned off or ignored. It requires immediate action.
If this happened to one of my sons, I would demand answers. I would not stop until I got them. There would be hell to pay. I would be grief stricken and angry. I would feel all the feelings, acutely. If this happened to one of my friends’ sons, I would go to her. I would sit with her in her outrage. I would let her weep. I would hold space for her to feel all the things. I would act on her behalf. I would not ask her what her son was doing to deserve this, or where he was when it happened. I would not victimize the murder victim any more than I would do so for a rape victim. Rape is wrong. Murder is wrong. Instead, I would have compassion for my friend and I would be with her to hold her up.
So, is it so hard to understand the shift from sorrow for myself or a friend to grief for a stranger? Is compassion only to be doled out to those who are like me? I have met many people of color in countries around the world in the last few years. I have seen the hearts of the mothers taking care of their children in war torn places. I have heard their stories of violence, murder, and loss. I have seen their grief. Oppression is alive and well all around the globe, not just in America. It is not a conservative/liberal issue, it is not red or blue. It is a human rights issue. When people are treated like this in other countries, we call it a human rights violation. The agreed upon assumption is that all humans have certain rights, and when people are violated by others, it is not just. Not right. To be treated as less than human is cruel. We treat our animals better than this. At its core, this is about humans and how we treat other humans.
I heard the distress cry from George’s mouth to my mother’s ears. It did something inside of me. I cannot tell you why it hadn’t happened before now. Only that it happened this time and I am holding space for the grief. I am sitting in the mess. I am lamenting for all the black moms and for an entire people group. My heart is broken. If it were one of my sons, I would welcome compassion and empathy. But it won’t be one of my sons, not because they don’t do anything wrong, but because they would get the benefit of the doubt. They would be treated differently than George was. It won’t be one of my sons, because they are white.