I don’t know where we get the idea that our capacity for compassion and empathy, that our desire for justice and our pursuit of it by whatever means we have, is finite.
I don’t know where we get the idea that there is only so much.
I don’t know where we get the idea that there’s a bottom to it. That we have to guard it jealously, and only use it in the right times, the most right times. That if we spend it on you, we will have nothing left for anyone else.
As if love is a bowl of sugar. As if we’ll use it up.
As if even if that were true, it would change the task in front of us.
Because here’s the thing. We can always find a reason this time is not the right time to care. We can always find a way out of wasting our precious give-a-shit on someone who doesn’t “deserve” it. We can always find a mistake, a problem, a turning point at which somebody chose the wrong (to us, comfortable us, in hindsight) path, and use that as our excuse to turn away.
One of the police officers involved in Freddie Gray‘s death headed to trial in Baltimore on Monday. Several media outlets have reported on it. But only CNN, it seems, decided to bring up a totally unrelated fact in its story (emphasis added):
The April 19 death of Freddie Gray, the son of an illiterate heroin addict, made him a symbol of the black community’s distrust of police. His name is now invoked with those of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio; Eric Garner in New York; and other black men who died during encounters with white police officers. In Gray’s case, three of the officers charged are white; three black.
To be clear, whatever Gray’s mother did has nothing to do with Gray’s death or the trial it led to. Gray was arrested for allegedly carrying an illegal knife, and he died in police custody from a fatal spinal cord injury after he thrashed around the back of a moving police car without a seatbelt. His mother never came into the picture, much less her literacy or drug addiction.
So Freddie Gray isn’t worth caring about because his mother was a drug addict who couldn’t read. So Michael Brown smoked weed. So Eric Garner was selling cigarettes. So Tamir Rice had a toy gun.
So we don’t have to care this time. Let’s save it up.
God almighty, what does that get you? You don’t get more compassion by keeping it all for yourself. You don’t get more kindness and you don’t get more justice and you don’t get more anything because you cower in the corner and you say not this time, I’ll join the chorus next time, I’ll wait for a better parade. I’ll wait for the right protest. I’ll keep my powder dry. I’ll care when a truly innocent, truly perfect, truly worthy victim presents himself.
(Maybe like a baby, or something. If the cops shoot a baby. Who doesn’t have his fists balled up like he’s gonna fight them.)
Like what are you scared of? That you’ll wake up tomorrow having said that the state should not have the power to execute people on sight because they might be acting shady? You’re afraid that’s going to be a thing you’ll regret saying? You’re afraid that might come back to haunt you? You’re afraid that will send you to hell?
That, and not your silence?
Because here’s the other thing: There will always be more misery.
There will always be more injustice. There will always be more work to be done. We will never get to lay down our burdens. We will never attend the One True Protest that will change everything forever after which we can all go home.
That’s not a condemnation. That’s not a threat. It’s not even a promise.
That’s the world. That’s the way it’s designed. So there can’t be only so much compassion, so much caring, so much outrage, so much justice, so much fight. There can’t be a bottom to the sugar bowl. It can’t be like that unless it’s nothing and it’s not nothing, I don’t believe that, I won’t. Stop looking for a reason not to care. Stop acting like you’re going to spend your ration card. Stop being so afraid.
There’s no bottom to fear, either.