When Pain Looks Confusing

One March night in 2014, my husband and I were sitting on the couch... our toddler in bed and I, hugely pregnant with our second child, reading a book when we heard screams erupt from the building behind us. We peeked outside, as many of our neighbors did, to see a black man emerge into the parking lot. He screamed. He cursed. He shook his fist, tears streaming down his face. I had seen him many times and even made polite small talk, but couldn't remember his name or much about him.

To avoid being seen, I slipped back inside, confused and then, suddenly remembered...

Image result for racial injustice public domainMichael Brown had been shot... Darren Wilson, the police officer involved, was having his fate decided.

I grabbed my phone and opened CNN... Wilson had been cleared of rights violations in the shooting. I reported my findings to my husband and then, with an air of self-righteousness said, "this is why this stuff happens. He's out there screaming and cussing. This is part of the problem. He's making it worse."

I am humiliated now that I said that. Humiliated that I reduced his deep pain to an embarrassing display of immaturity. Humiliated that I thought I knew the correct way to respond to an injustice I couldn't understand. Humiliated that I thought a man exercising his first amendment right was making an already terrible problem... worse.

How could I, a white woman who has never been unfairly questioned or regarded as suspicious or overlooked for a job or opportunity based on the color of my skin, even begin to understand his pain? In that moment, I simply labeled him part of, "The Problem." When really, as I closed my door and waddled back to the couch and closed the article on my phone, I was the real Problem and I merely continuing to perpetuate the Problem.

I hadn't been checking news updates all day in hope for some semblance of justice. I was unaware of the staggering statistics of black men shot in the back while running from police officers. I was blind to the plight of my literal neighbors, whose sons must be instructed on how to enter a store, how to interact with police officers, what to do when you're pulled over... conversations I will NEVER think to have with my own two sons.

I was simply able to hear a neighbor crying out in pain at a centuries-old injustice, check my phone, and tuck it away. My life went on, unaffected.

If I could go back to that night in 2014, I would tell my pregnant self to GO OUTSIDE. Talk to that man. Ask his name. Feel his pain with him. Listen to his story. Don't shut the door and go to bed. Listen. Feel. Hurt. Offer a drink. Share a meal. How dare you ignore someone who is hurting. How dare you shut someone out.

I did not understand. I still don't fully understand. But the only way to start understanding is to listen. And the only way we can listen? Is to ask questions. We can't close our doors when we don't understand someone else's pain. We can't pass it off as an overreaction because it's not something we personally encounter. Pain is always from a real place.

It isn't our job to merely march in solidarity or share articles on social media written by people smarter than we are. We have to actually break bread with those unlike us. This does not solely apply to Black Lives Matter. If you are afraid or dismissive of a people group, that's the people you need to be sitting around a table with. In Revelation, the church is described as one of many nations, many tongues... but at so many church services I have sat in, the church is one of the few places still very segregated to this day. Shouldn't Christians be the first to sit at the table of reconciliation? Shouldn't we be the first to link arms with those of different socioeconomic statuses, religions, and cultures? Shouldn't we be the ones outside asking the black man to please, please, tell us why you hurt?

It's true that I cannot travel back to 2014 and beg my former self to please, please, respond differently. But... next time, and as we have unfortunately seen it is likely there will be a next time, I will try to understand. Understand first. Judge never.


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