Memories are weird and the whole brain filing system is weird as well. I don’t fully understand it. Maybe that means I have a bad memory or maybe that is how brains work. Maybe memories pop up when they are needed—to be reconciled with or challenged. Maybe?
The movie Lion has a scene where the main character remembers his early childhood in India, triggered by watching jalebi fry (an orange Indian sweet). That simple moment catapulted the main character to a childhood he had forgotten. And that’s all it took, food, smell, sound. Poof! There he was, in a memory he didn’t know he had until he had it.
I read the postings and article and watched the horrific video of Ahmaud Arbery jogging through a neighborhood and then getting shot—for jogging through a neighborhood. The people who murdered him said that he was a robber, that he was suspicious—I sat there quietly thinking about a man going for a jog—the same young man popping in to a construction site to have a look around. As a new home builder I had stopped in a few construction sites out of curiosity and I’m certain that people popped in to mine.
The value of a person
In silence feelings came up, feelings automatic, of obligation as a fellow human. I am morally obligated to, bound and committed, to care and compassion when someone is hurt. It should be automatic in us as humans. It should be.
I am disgusted by the idea that a man’s life may have had less value than, I don’t know, maybe a power tool? A table saw? A freaking house! What ever may have been at that home. Yuck. As I let that ugly moment sit with me, like really sit I felt the awfulness of it.
And poof! I was no longer sitting in my house, in my living room. I am pushed back to my parents’ house. I’m around ten years old and I’m watching All in the Family. You know the sit com with Carroll O’Connor as Archie Bunker. If you’re young and unfamiliar with it, go find it.
Back then there were only three channels so we watched what we could get. That was a long time ago.
Black men jogging
The memory that hits me is around a young black man, a character named Lionel. The flashes come in bits. In one there’s a joke about him jogging in the neighborhood with fear that the police might think he just committed a crime and he’s running. The laugh track triggers. The second memory is of Lionel not being able to walk down the street with a television in his arms because it would be assumed that he stole it because he’s black—and the laugh track triggers. I remember these bits as clear as if I just saw them.
As a ten year old something about these scenes stuck with me. I don’t think I understood why and I don’t even remember if I laughed or if I thought how unfortunate for Lionel—that going for a run was deemed dangerous, back then. Did I think it was funny? I can’t remember but I do remember the joke–yes. My brain stored that moment, tightly, tucked away, unpleasant and quiet. It wasn’t funny. Not. One. Bit.
It was not funny 40 years ago and it’s not now.
I jog, almost every day. I have never once thought that I was in peril going for a run. Not once. Yesterday I high-fived my writing partner as he ran by me. I have never worried about a truck running me down and shooting me. This white privilege is making me sick to my stomach.
A human being went for a jog. Something he had the right to. A person should have the right to go for a jog, breath the air, feel the pumping of their lungs and the thumping of their heart. They should smell the air and hear the birds chirping, wave at fellow joggers as they pass. They should be able to make grocery lists and to do lists and recall memories as they plod along taking in the their paces and watching their personal best time. They should be able to come home, sweaty, happy, breathy, guzzling water and then trucking to the shower to wash the sweat of another great run off their body. All people should be able to check out a house and keep on keeping on without someone choosing to snuff out their life.
Why do I have to say the following: Human life is more valuable than material stuff. Oh my God! I actually have to say this out loud.
My memory was over 40 years ago. And after reading the Ahmaud Arbery story I am hit with the true fact that nothing has changed. How absolutely tragic. A man of colour cannot go for a jog without being thought suspect of breaking the law.
It was the way in 1979 and it is the way in 2020.
Time to say enough is enough.
My prayers go to Ahmaud’s family to find some sliver of peace in this incredibly unjust tragedy. It is not the way to bury one’s child. Sending them light and love.