Death. I used to be afraid of it, unable to wrap my mind around its mortal finality that blows numbingly cold like the wind.
Death. As a child, the shadows crept into my mind as I lay in bed. Unsettled by its inevitability, the thought of death kept me awake late at night, roused me from my twin bunk as I imagined spiraling into a black hole filled with deafening silence, into nothingness.
Death troubled me — the death that lived in my neighborhood. That glared from sullen vacant lots of weeds and debris, where proud brick houses once stood. That arrived like a debt collector to confiscate the souls of the old and the young.
Death lurked menacingly around street corners, in dark gangways and in alleys that sometimes smelled of rotting dead rats. Like the alley where Miss Hattie’s corpse was found brutalized and dumped in a garbage can.
Death. And Evil.
Prematurely, without apology, they siphoned the breath of ghetto boys and girls whom I came to meet, even as a reporter, through death. Their memories are seared into my conscious with recollections of tiny caskets, of little girls buried in barrettes, ribbons and prom dresses, nestled next to Teddy bears, of helium balloons released into cloudy skies as tears spilled from swollen wearied eyes.
Today Murder and his brother, Evil, loom ominously like a storm. They fester in a toxic atmosphere — one devoid of love, of human decency and civility.
Perhaps it has always been this way for the evil that takes root in the hearts of man. For the brand of evil that is fueled by hate and scapegoating and that further feeds upon divisive rhetoric, which, in these times, gusts upon violent winds of rage and mental illness, threatening to destroy anyone — everyone — in its path.
The storm called Evil ebbs and flows. It often arrives silently, like dark clouds. It carries the possibility of yielding unexpected news by sunrise, of human tragedy of incomprehensible proportion. “Breaking news” settles over us like a poisonous dew that eventually can dull the senses.
The challenge is to not allow it to happen. Even as we turn on the television to reports of a mass shooting. Then another. And another. We awaken to carnage and chaos. To sadistic slayings in which innocence — in the purest moments of life, love and celebration — suddenly has become the unsuspecting target of Evil’s cataclysmic intrusion:
The Tree of Life Synagogue. Kroger grocery store. A California country music bar. The Emanuel A.M.E. Church. An outdoor concert in Las Vegas. Stoneman Douglas High School. Sandy Hook. Columbine… Weekend after weekend of shootings in Chicago alone. The incalculable toll of homicide.
Worshippers, fathers, mothers, grandparents, college students, children, babies… Jewish, Protestant, black, brown and white…
None is immune. Evil, like Death, does not discriminate.
I have come to accept that death is natural. But that this brand of death is not.
That mass shootings are preventable. And evil and hate conquerable.
That while death is ultimately a normal part of life, death at the hands of murderous gunmen, occurring in mass shootings with increasing frequency across America, is not. That we must never accept this scourge as normalcy. Never be resigned to allowing evil to reign or afraid to confront it.
This I believe. Even as I remember the prayer that has granted me solace and courage: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”
And yet, there comes a time to do more than pray.
This truth slaps me like the words of a new grieving mother and a cold numbing wind.
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