What do you say to a child who’s lost his mother to a brutal and senseless act of violence?
Somehow “I’m sorry” sounds so inadequate.
I’m sorry, Francis, that you will grow up knowing your mother only as a memory. You’ll grow up hearing what a “saint” she was, what an “angel” she was. So many people loved her so much, I bet you’ll even get a little sick of hearing about it. Growing up is difficult enough, but it will be extra hard for you now. It’s such a shame.
You came and played in our house last Sunday. I didn’t even give you a hug. Now you’re hundreds of miles away. I can’t imagine you’ll ever be visiting our house again, though of course you’re welcome anytime. I’m sorry I didn’t spend more time with you when you were here.
I can’t help but feel responsible for your mother’s death. No, I didn’t pull the trigger. That was the act of some deranged individual. But that individual was a product of a society, my society. It was for love of this society that your parents came back against the odds. It was our violent society that killed your mother. I’m so sorry for that betrayal.
You’re just a child, Francis, just two years old. You’re an innocent. You can’t be held responsible for the state of affairs here. But I’m a little older. I will be 40 in just a few days. It’s hard and harder for me to blame previous generations for the troubles we face. At some point, I have to accept some degree of responsibility for what our society is. How can I take pride in the good without feeling shame for the bad?
Shame is not a popular emotion these days. I don’t know that it ever has been. But I do know this: Any adult who doesn’t feel shame for the violence that continues to propagate through our society needs a head examination. Shame leads to responsibility. Shame is the first step. The next step is getting involved in the community to address the root causes of violence. That’s the only response that means anything.
Francis, your parents understood this. I believe they had the clearest sense of this responsibility of anyone I’ve met. They understood this responsibility was not a burden but a joy. That joy is sadly diminished now. I can only hope against hope that it is not extinguished.
Xy and I spent a few hours Saturday boxing up your toys. What a sad task. As the day went on I found I was having trouble breathing at times. I lost my appetite and couldn’t seem to eat much even as I got weaker from hunger. As the evening wore on I began to feel feverish and got the chills. I was literally sick with grief. And yet this grief is but a fraction of what your father and family are feeling. Sadness comes into every life, but I hope very little of such gut-wrenching grief comes into yours. This is surely enough.
I’ve been listening to “Never Be Alone,” (mp3) another sweet song by the Troublemakers, and imagining it as a message from father to son. It probably wasn’t written with that intent, but it certainly seems to work. I hope some day you find these lyrics as comforting as I do now. More than that, I still hope for the development of the “beloved community,” so that all of us will “never be alone.”
You’re too young to know what’s going on now, Francis. One day your mother was here. Now she’s gone. As you grow, I hope you’ll be able to understand what happened here, to comprehend the tragic dimensions of this horrible thing, even though that will be painful.
And I hope you’ll be able to forgive us. We’ve truly made a mess of things.