Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Contemplating the Unimaginable

Stephen King said Pet Semetary, a novel about resurrecting a child after a terrible road accident, was conceived because he let his mind drift and rest upon the unimaginable horror: losing one’s child. Some never finished the book because of that dreadful scene when a toddler just barely in command of his limbs runs toward the highway; some read in fits and starts, peeking a bit further and ever further into King’s nightmare; and some braced for the pain and read on, following King down the Rabbit Hole.

Photo by Bobbrooky, "Wild European Rabbit," www.dreamstime.com

Another book that has inspired the same dread and horror in readers is A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. In this novel, two Afghani women live with danger: a brutal, abusive man. After the women try to flee, he punishes the mother of his child by locking her and her baby in a closed room without food or water and closes the windows, sealing in the rising heat. She lies as still as possible, desperate to save her child, helpless to do so, and hoping that her abuser will free her in time.

Photo by Al Griffin, 2011, Al Griffin Photography on Google+ and FineArtAmerica

Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold recreates the devastating grief that cripples and alienates loving parents, driving one from the other after they lose a child, abducted and slaughtered by a stranger. The words selected to convey their pain are visceral, leaping from the page and twisting the hearts of readers.

 Photo by Al Griffin, February 2013, Al Griffin Photography on Google+ and FineArtAmerica

These books are as close as I have come to a parent’s unimaginable grief for I, like most people, turn from the notion that I might outlive my child. It is a fear that I keep at bay, but Trayvon Martin’s parents know that sometimes Fear opens the door and walks right into the light. It forces itself into lives and relentlessly pursues the living until they accept its presence. Then they have nothing but time in which to accept and believe that the promise they brought into this world will never be fulfilled.

I cry for them. I ache for them. And I marvel at their grace. I do not believe that in my grief that I could achieve their dignity and reserve, especially if required to grieve with cameras and bloggers and pundits feeding upon my words.

But I don’t know what they know. I have not lived what they have lived. I have never, for example, stepped from the safety of my home into a world that mistrusted and even despised me. I have never sent my child into harm’s way every day simply because my child was born into a race that has been oppressed and abused to slake the thirst of men and women who must justify their economic gain and moral decay by rendering others as the undeserving, unqualified, unequal residents of this planet.

Photo by Rob Mcclean, "Boy's Comfort Hood," www.dreamstime.com

I have never been required to summon the courage to walk among those who mistrust and despise me. I have never been called upon to challenge injustice by protests, speeches, and marches because those are the last weapons in my arsenal for peaceful change. I have also been able to enjoy opportunities denied to so many others: the opportunity of a good public education in a well-funded district and the opportunity to compete for work and good housing in any neighborhood in any city.
I also don’t know how Trayvon’s parents will live with the jury’s verdict. I would be bereft, adrift in the country I call home because the judicial system that I hoped was, as Atticus Finch said, the great leveler turned out to be rigged and unequal as the arrest and imprisonment rates for Black Americans prove.

For those of us not in the courtroom, the verdict was not justice. Trayvon Martin was just seventeen years old. A boy. And as a boy, his judgment was imperfect. He would have been wise not to confront his stalker, but he did. George Zimmerman, on the other hand, was an armed adult; we expect more of his judgment because of his age, experience, and license to carry a firearm. Yet his judgment was imperfect, so much so that he defied the advice of the 9-1-1 dispatcher and stalked a boy. That fact seems to have escaped the jury. 

Zimmerman’s trainer says George was soft, not strong or muscular, but he still outweighed Trayvon. That fact seems to have eluded the jury.

Furthermore, Zimmerman’s weapon tells us that he feared for his life and his property, so frightened that he trained and qualified to carry a weapon against the dangers surrounding him. But he had nothing to fear from Trayvon until Zimmerman initiated a confrontation by stalking the boy. Zimmerman was the catalyst, his choices the fuel in an engine that exploded. He alone is responsible for the tragic outcome, but that fact seems to have eluded the jury.

And then, according to the defense team who persuaded a judge to allow it, Zimmerman confronted a sidewalk-wielding boy who probably pushed George to the ground and began to fight off the only danger on that sidewalk: George Zimmerman. This terrified the already frightened Zimmerman so much that he brought a firearm to a fist fight. He shot and killed an unarmed boy. This fact appears to have been ignored by the jury because the defense team, aided and abetted by an imcompetent prosecution and judge on the bench, convicted the victim, not the perpetrator

Vigilante Zimmerman killed one, and the courtroom sanctioned domestic terrorism by finding Zimmerman not guilty. The jury has also killed a nation’s faith in justice. Black men and women have long mistrusted their chances to obtain justice; now a majority of White, Latino, and Asian Americans must acknowledge that no one is safe if innocent men and women are found guilty while guilty men and women walk free, terrible truths brought to us in living color through our televisions.


Photo by Valentin Armianu, "Justice Balance," www.dreamstime.com

Television cameras brought the Vietnam War into our living rooms and helped turned public sentiment to peace. Cameras also helped change the world by showing the savagery practiced to insure that civil, Constitutional rights were denied to Black Americans. May television cameras facilitate another change in another failed institution: our judicial system.


We need another straw that breaks the camel’s back. Justice denied for Trayvon Martin could be that straw. Let us contemplate the unimaginable: justice blind . . . justice for all.