True Names: Reflecting on Lost Lives

“Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.”**

I am in pain over our nation’s tragedies – a convergence of intolerance, racism, violence and guns; and peaceful protests devolving into another mass shooting by a lone individual allowed to buy and build a stockpile of war weaponry.

I am in pain over our broken and corrupt systems, infrastructure, and ethics.

I am in pain over the glacial pace at which change, social justice, and healing takes place especially for those who have the least; whose communities have been pillaged of positive resources while those who abuse their powers, their budgets, and our tax dollars continue business-as-usual without suffering any accountability.

Are you hurting, too?

How are you channeling your hurt? Are you talking it out with others? Taking it out on others? Have you been crying? Do you pray?

Are you writing about it? Making visual art or composing music? Do you belong to an activist organization that considers deeply ways to respond intelligently, compassionately, with strategies for creating systemic change and psychic healing?

Are you, like many of us having some difficulty processing our unique American tragedies?

Have you thrown it all out of your mind? Willed yourself to forget about it?

There have been times when I have thought: I just want to have my little blog over here talking about things I love and care about. What need is there for for me to join the dinn, the 24-hour news cycle repeatedly showing the same clips of video footage over and over again – etching a groove of the same points of argument volleying like ping-pong balls smacking from side to side without resolution?

I thought: why should I bother trying to compete with the questions and analyses of journalists and political pundits; the dizzying roundtable of experts whose opinions are sought? Or with writers more eloquent than myself? I want to stay over here in la-la-land, especially since every time I try and wrap my head around our national tragedies, all I can come up with is a deep ache.

But folklore & literacy is my public platform where I find ways to write about caring about people and the stories of our lives so how can I be silent?

The families and friends of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile are still hurting. The families and friends of the public servants – Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Sergeant Michael Smith, Sr. Cpl. Lorne Ahrens -who were killed in Dallas are still hurting. More names added to those of the list of people killed in the Orlando nightclub shooting; to the list of those fallen in last summer’s Charleston, South Carolina church shooting, to the scroll of names….

“Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up
and open the door of my heart,
the door of compassion.”**

We have such a long list of names, many of whom will not receive national and international mention.

Their names are testament to our collective pain, frustration, and grief. So let us remember and let us grieve. Let us reflect. Let us envision: What do fairness and justice look like?

I’ve been moved by the words of some and angered by the words of others. When Dallas Police Chief David Brown said that a democracy requires participation I was reminded that social justice is not just an aspiration but a changing and dynamic attitude; a way of being that embraces personal empowerment behaviors like self-reflection, compassion for oneself and others, and civic participation that recognizes that society is not a machine that owes us goodies and treats.

Every spec of equality and freedom that I enjoy I owe to people who have animated and chiseled the ideals of equal justice with their struggles, their coalition-building and activism, and their lives. I imagine that some of my ancestors were always looking ahead, thinking about the kind of world they wanted me to safely grow up and move around in, and now that torch, that relay ring is in my hand, I have to ask myself what I’m going to do with it?

** excerpted from “Call Me By My True Names” by Thich Nhat Hanh. To learn more about this global leader, poet, and peace activist, visit this page at Plum Village.

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7 Comments

  1. Thank you, Leslie, for a beautiful post. I am hurting, too. There are so many ways to get rid of various pains, but talking (or writing) them out may be our strongest one to help our country.

  2. It all affects me as well though I don’t always share my opinions on the injustices I see about me and on the news. I tend to be pessimistic most times and simply mumble to myself about things but I’m always glad to see great pushes for change like Black Lives Matter.
    I do worry though about how things will be later in the year as the presidential race draws to a close. I think that there might be a uptick in violence as extremists on both sides revert to crazy stunts to prove a point.

    1. Hi Zezee – I can empathize with your feelings of pessimism; but I hope your worries are unfounded. My hope and prayer is that advocates of justice, people of reasoning, lovers of truth will “show-up and show-out” so that bigotry and violence do not rule the day.

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