Finding The Cure To Breathe Freely
Alone in the darkness and feeling sorry for myself — shades drawn down, wife down South and many weeks deep into our restaurants being shut down and shuttered from this latest plague — the time had come for a self-repair day. For allowing personal despair in, giving fear permission, contemplating worst-case scenarios, shunning phone and email while embracing sad movies. And peanut butter.
“Positive energy” is my default setting, but through these long weeks my emotions have relentlessly roiled just beneath the surface. I have become the breathing, seething version of an emoji menu, finger scrolling: laugh, cry, eye roll, grumble, growl, bulging bicep, middle finger — I’ve been functioning under the ceaseless menace of “all this shit.” The unknown, the death, the media assault, both the overreactions and sheer stupidity. For all our superiority, our human race suffers from widespread ignorance.
Even so, “Great!” remains my go-to response whenever anyone asks how I am doing. It blurts out and I rebuke myself: “Dude, you are hemorrhaging.”
Then, much like this pandemic, in an instant dope-slap of a parallel reality … George Floyd was murdered.
And there it came. Incessant internal pulsing began to slowly erupt. Emotions reaching decades back through my past. Unexpected guttural noises escaped my soul for days, lured to the surface by tens of thousands of protesters who get it and got after it, en masse. I became further repulsed by the many who just don’t get it. Or won’t. Those who deflect and redirect the focus — who refuse to recognize this pandemic, but choose instead to be dismissive rather than attempt to understand — unwilling to put in the work.
For those about to boycott me, offended by alternative perspectives, let me be clear on mine. George Floyd was killed by a man, first. An abusive, reckless man. While other men watched, lacking the courage, culture, permission or humanity to intervene. Which was it? The murder of my brother does not represent my police, although he was a police officer. While I support the need for sweeping change, the evil and the ignorant remain so, regardless of their cloak. When we give power to bullies, they become more dangerous. Black people are disproportionally vulnerable in a system where bullies are awarded so much power and too often not held accountable.
All at once, my previous personal struggle waned — much like CNN’s regurgitating coverage of COVID-19. Finally, something more urgent. My silent musings about the people wearing masks while walking outside refocused upon those who would retort “all lives matter.” No shit, Sherlock. A mocking quip requires less empathy than thinking upon the “why” and the “how” someone else is hurting.
“Try being Black,” dared one of my oldest friends once upon a time. She and I fought recently over my insensitive reaction to her sensitive reaction to something insensitive I said. We didn’t talk for a couple of weeks. Then we did. We’re now better for it.
She once eloquently explained white privilege to me at a time when the truth made me defensive. I listened. It was easy to grasp coming from someone who suffers because of it. When I contended that I don’t even think about color, she scoffed, “And there you have it. That’s your privilege. But Black people can never stop thinking about it.” I understand it now and own it. Today, I am embarrassed that I’ve never asked other boyhood friends — Spencer, Dave, Kenny, Mike, or my very own sister, all Black — how their lives have been challenged. To be color blind is to ignore their truth.
Following a recent staff meeting to discuss our reopening with newly mandated safety procedures, one of our more impassioned employees called me out privately on my failure to speak to the human race’s other worldwide pandemic since our beginning — having ended infinitely more lives prematurely than COVID-19, and still counting. “You missed the opportunity to take a stand.” There it was again. My privilege to overlook what she cannot. (I remain a work in progress!) She challenged me further: “Black people’s equality requires that white people become better allies and that we all amplify the message of racial injustice.” At first feeling defensive, I continued to listen through her pain. She was right. She humbled me.
By the time you are reading this, our restaurants will have reopened with improved education, training and protocols as we continue our struggle for professional survival, in harmony with fighting both these scourges. We will shine light upon social distancing, along with social justice, emphasizing our ideals of mutual respect, dignity, access and opportunity for all people, and that the color of one’s skin ought not to dictate outcome. It’s time we grasped this as a society. And I, for one, can do so much better.