To Silence the Silent

I have never been brave. I feign courage, I swallow my nerves, psych myself in anxiety until the adrenalin overpowers my emotion and I go. But I do not claim to brave. I follow the path of heroes, one step at a time, sometimes barely one breath at a time.

But I manage.

When I wrote last, I remarked about the number of unpublished posts I’ve written–it’s disheartening, the stories I yearn to tell, that I’m too afraid to share.

Today is one of those tales.

I don’t know where to begin: I have no right to speak.

But neither do I have any right to remain silent.

I heard about a Die-In happening on campus today and decided, no, I would not attend. Then I ended up in the right place at the right time and I had no excuse not to go.

I am ashamed to say I felt relieved that I was not the only white person there. But although in the past I’ve felt nervous in large groups of people of color (more so than my anxiety in large groups in general), today I felt no discomfort. It’s strange to talk about feeling like the only white guy because, hey, how many times have I been in groups with only one person of color? Yet I understand how it feels to be the only Jew, the only queer, the only English-speaking person in the room: no matter the classification, it’s uncomfortable being with others you can’t relate to, people who are unlike you, people who are unknown.

Today I knew them: We stood in solidarity, for justice, equality, freedom and liberation. We were maybe eighty, a hundred strong; most of us were people of color, but many races, ethnicities, sexes, and other distinguishable factors brought us into a mosaic that was more beautiful than any individual.

This was my expectation: we would meet and everyone would “die” on the Brickyard in demonstration. On the cold, hard ground, we would lie there in demonstration.

This is what happened: only a select few people would die, they would do it in the library, and the rest of us would be mourners over their fallen bodies. We were broken up into groups. Two women of color would be our victims: one, Rita, went around our group, hugging each of us, saying, “I haven’t had my daily dose yet.” The press of her arms around my body, the feel of her small frame next to mine… It felt like she were saying goodbye, as if this death were her real death, and we were her charioteers into heaven…

Then: the ones-to-die went inside, and a moment later we followed.

No one spoke. People around us stared, said, “This is time to study, why are they doing this?” and we went further into these silent halls, carrying our own silence…breaking the silence we have been thrust into.

Rita and Janee lay there, dead. We gathered around them, clasped our hands, bowed our heads. We did this for Michael Brown. For Eric Garner. I did it for Bria, Amanda, Cliff, Donte, Taylor, Amber, Aaron, Kristen, Jessica, Janee and Tiera, Troy, Tee, Tina, and Leia… I did it for Natalie, Zane, Huma, Jay, and Harel….

I did it because: what if we adopt black kids? Is this the world I want for them? Is this the world I give my friends? Family? Classmates, professors, and coworkers? Is this the face of freedom? Is this what liberty gives us?

Not all the people who came to mind are black, but they’re all not white.

We each have passions, aspirations…. We each bleed and shed tears like the rest… Why should the world see us any differently?

I did it because: my right hand held Leah’s, and Jade held my left. Because through the tears obscuring my vision I couldn’t see color; instead I felt a hand like any other, a heartbeat struggling to be heard.

Ten minutes came and went. Fifteen. Twenty.

We did not speak. We did not move. We cried, prayed, breathed.

We still cry, pray, breathe.

I have no right to speak, but I am obliged to listen. Every wail of mourning shatters the darkness like dawn, and in the silence, every heartbeat sounds the same.


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