I can close my eyes and go back to that day in a moment. I can remember the icy January wind blowing through me, remember the sharp, wintry brightness of the sun, the harsh, bitter beauty of that day. I remember cradling my son in my arms. How did I hold him, and he was gone? Why couldn’t the flame of my love slip into his icy body, warm him from within, bring him back to me? If only love could’ve sustained him. If only, if only.
Where am I? Am I there, stuck on that winter day, my dead son nestled in my arms? Part of me is. Part of me will always be there.
But a large part of me is here and now.
James life and his death gave me such a gift. They opened my eyes. The agonizing pain of his death could’ve closed them. I could have gone into my pain, submerged myself into the white-hot fire of sorrow that burns within me always. It would be understandable. No one would blame me (at least not outwardly), if my grief consumed me. I could’ve destroyed my own life quite without effort.
And yet, that’s not what has happened. I’ve stumbled. I still stumble. But I keep picking myself up and looking toward tomorrow, because tomorrow is always another chance to turn it around.
James opened my eyes. He opened my eyes to the sorrow in the world. To the pain. To the suffering. To the ways that I can help others. To the way that just one voice reaching out across the void can bring someone back from the brink. He reminded me that I am not alone, and I shouldn’t choose to be alone. He taught me love.
He has taught me gratitude and perspective. He taught me that even though his death is excruciating, I will not refuse to see the gifts of it. I met him. I heard his voice. I saw him smile at his big sisters. I held him warm, cradled on my chest. He was mine, and I was his, if even for a short time. That is a gift. Always a gift, and death cannot steal that from me. Nothing can. I am grateful for that time, even though it was too short. I am grateful that I was there when he came into this world, and I was there with him when he left.
The most important thing that James taught me is not to be silent. You may think that I’m talking about silence regarding his death, and while yes, I am not silent about him, that is not what I mean.
You see, I used to believe that I am just one person, in a world of pain and wrongs. What could I possibly do to help anyone else? What difference could I possibly make? James made me realize that this is the problem. We all feel like “just one person,” and so we remain silent. We see casual racism, our peers sexually harassed and assaulted, and we stay quiet. After all, what can we really do? We can’t change anyone’s opinion, right?
Maybe not. Maybe we can’t undo the wrongs of those before us. Maybe we can’t fix the racism that came before we did. We can’t undo the sexual assaults, the harassment and marginalization of ethnic groups, of women.
But what we can do is speak out against it. When we hear the word racist, we think of the NeoNazis on television and the violence in Charlottesville. We don’t think of the soft racism, the every day racism. It’s hard to stand up to these things, especially when they are perpetuated by people you love.
Just recently, a person that I love very deeply and who means the world to me, used the N-word in a conversation with myself and my husband. In the past, because of the reverence in which we hold this person, neither of us would’ve said anything. But James taught me that this casual, every day racism is just as bad as those people in Charlottesville. How can we expect our children to be better, our world to be a better place, if we sit silently by and let these things slide because of our discomfort?
We didn’t let it slide. And we won’t any longer.
James taught me to stand up and be a voice for those people. James taught me what it’s like to want to help other people, to try to make a difference in a broken world, no matter how small. Am I making a huge difference? No. Not yet. Maybe never. But I am making a small difference, every day, I hope.
So, where am I?
I’m here. Imperfect, perhaps broken, but always willing to get up, to keep walking, to keep trying, to keep loving, to keep speaking for those who don’t have a voice. There are days when I want to throw something through a window. There are days when I don’t want to get out of bed. There are days when the sadness is so overwhelming that I wish I had died with him. Most days are just sad though. Most days, I just miss his sweet voice and his big blue eyes. In that sorrow though, I feel the warm sunshine of his life, the gratitude that he was mine, that he will always be mine.
Thank you, James. I’m so proud of you.