On occasion, an event takes place that is so horribly egregious, it rises far above even the usual destructive divisiveness that is ravaging our country and merits a response. It merits a voice and I want mine to be heard. I want to scream. And I am not searching for likes or dislikes.
Wednesdays are referred to as “Wellness Wednesdays” at my place of employment when as the psychiatric director, I address issues of Wellness during this pandemic experience. With recent events, I am challenged as to what to say to my fellow co-workers when Wellness, in all its forms, is actively being denied a specific section of our society.
For any of us who was traumatized by the events surrounding the death of Eric Gardner on Staten Island in July 2014, with his last words being “I can’t breathe”, the killing of a 46 year old African American man named Mr. George Floyd by a white Minneapolis officer, was a re-triggering of a deep and chronic emotional and psychological trauma. On Monday May 25, 2020, Officer Derek Chauvin callously knelt on the neck of a restrained Mr. Floyd for nearly nine minutes resulting in Mr. Floyd’s death. It was a depraved, and inhumane act that was brazenly committed in broad daylight and video recorded. It is being repeatedly viewed by the whole world. Mr. Floyd’s last words were that he couldn’t breathe as he was calling for his deceased mother.
We are amid a life-threatening pandemic and have recently passed a sad milestone of over 100,000 deaths in this country due to the COVID-19. The deaths included several physicians who were my mentors and role models. Those deaths did not have to be. The ill-preparedness of government at every level and the inept communication coming from this poor preparation contributed to those deaths. The politicization of a global health crisis is boldly irresponsible and frankly unforgiveable. Interestingly, the novel virus is the only unusual thing in this season of our lives. Social injustice has historically been the norm. The name George Floyd does not stand alone as an example of racial or social injustice in the history of these Divided States of America. The names change but unfortunately the color overwhelmingly does not.
With the history of hundreds of years of social injustice in America, I wonder how a person of color can achieve any form of mental, emotional, social, and spiritual Wellness in this world? Is it possible to have justice if you are Black, Brown, Asian, Gay, Transgendered, or a member of a traditionally marginalized group? Will I ever feel safe living as a Black man in America? Clearly my medical degree or any of my accomplishments in life can’t protect me. I am proud to have helped in establishing a much-needed medical clinic in Malawi. I have traveled the world helping people medically and psychiatrically. But those accomplishments mean nothing should I have the knee of a depraved racist on my neck. A Harvard educated African American man was not protected by his degree when a white woman frantically called 911 on the morning of 5/25/20 in Central Park to report that “an African American” man was threatening her and her dog. A video clearly showed this was a lie.
What about my father, and cousins, and friends who happen to be non-white? How safe are they? I am sure you have your own questions.
I want to believe in the best of us as a world community. And I really want to believe in the best of me because I know I have the capacity to become someone that my mother would never be proud of. In a search for Wellness, my mind comes to an exploration of faith. I think that faith is an umbrella word that covers another word called hope. The Bible calls faith the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen. Where do you find this faith in eventual or ultimate justice when injustice has been walking this planet since the beginning of societies? For many, justice in many of its forms has often been like a fleeting dream that evaporates upon awakening.
I do find some form of hope in the words of Theodore Parker, a Unitarian Abolitionist minister. In a sermon dated in 1853 entitled “Of Justice and the Conscience” he writes, “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight: I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see it bends towards justice.” Both Martin Luther King Jr and President Obama have used a paraphrased version of this quote to build a form of emotional and spiritual endurance when injustice shows its ugly face. This quote is rich, and I wish we had the time to dissect it.
But even this encouraging statement can lead you to think that good things will somehow magically happen. I don’t think positive things just happen in this mortal life we live. Of course, many of us who believe in the power of prayer pray. But we as a people on this planet make good or bad things happen by our actions every single day from the things we think, say, write and do.
I think we bend this arc towards justice by doing the right things such as exploring how we can positively process this tragedy and the many other such injustices that will undoubtedly take place as we live this life. The burning anger, frustration, sadness, and depression that blanket our communities overtly and covertly, chronically and acutely, now and historically are clearly understandable. The social inequities and health disparities have a reckoning. There is a societal price to pay, and it is being paid generationally. Personally, I am livid down to my core.
But arson and wanton destruction of property are wrong. That victimizes all of us. Attacking police officers who are trying to do their job in a conscientious manner is wrong. Provoking the police is just plain stupid and dangerous. That victimizes all of us.
We need to process what we are experiencing and how we are experiencing this trauma. We need to talk about it, write about it, cry about it, and pray about it. How we process it and the result of that processing will speak loudly about who we are and how much we are moving towards some form of Wellness in a severely broken world.