“Who would censor kids just learning to be servants of empire?” —A Memory Called Empire, Arkady Martine
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve probably read the phrase “students listen respectfully to others” a hundred times. A thousand, give or take, over the last year. It’s in the textbooks I’m copy editing as part of the social-emotional learning thread.
The well of grief every time I read that phrase is vast, like a caldera.
I was reading Jack Forbes’s slim book Columbus and Other Cannibals last week and marked a number of pages, spare insights into a culture that has rot at its roots, or a twist in its center, or corruption at its core, whatever metaphor you want to choose. Insights like:
“The fear of evil, in other words, should be understood as being based on no mythical character (Satan), but rather upon the European’s justified fear of his own kind.”
Fear without room for grief, without space and time and commonality to acknowledge what, and who, has been lost.
A nation should stop in grief. A society should stop in grief. A community should stop in grief. We should stop in grief. The system we live in hardly allows ordinary people to stop for anything, grief perhaps least of all.
Grief should haunt us. I think it does, actually, especially the more one tries to ignore it, especially the more outside pressure tries to force it into ignorance, into forgetting, into not mattering.
“The real test of a spiritual path,” wrote Forbes,
“is not to see how many monuments result, or how many converts are obtained, or how many prayers are repeated over and over again by imitative voices, but rather the test is: How do people who follow that path behave?”
I keep putting my hands in the dirt, working in the garden to do something against the despair of the reality that will not be ignored. I push peas into the soil, and it does feel better. But a pea is not a child; a fresh raspberry is not balm for a broken parent.
“Listen respectfully to others.” Especially in grief, for which there are many metaphors, all of which serve to deflect a little from the truth, the realness, of loss. A nation, a society, a community, should stop all else and walk with that.
Instead we put our heads down and work, and on the following Friday our Director tells us to "take care of ourselves." Everyone I know is shellshocked into a state of numbness (pointing finger at myself too). So we work, and work, and carry on because capitalism demands we do so. Be resilient, they say. Eff off, I say.
A community should pause in its grief when there is death. A society should close all its business, pause all normal activities, and come together for a day to collectively grieve when it has failed to protect its people. To mourn with our hearts, not just with our words. To acknowledge our failures and mistakes. To gather the wounded and hurting and console them. To say that what happened was wrong and that what we did wasn't enough. To take the necessary steps to prevent this from ever happening again. And resolve that it never will.