I stayed up last night watching the news. Networks from all over the country converged on Ferguson, Missouri to document the reaction to a grand jury decision to not prosecute a police officer who fatally shot a young man. Some people were sad. Some people were happy. A handful were violent.
A large number of those who watched these events unfold searched for ways to process what they were seeing, and took to social media. Some wrote that the government was criminal. Some wrote messages that condemned theft and vandalism. Some plead for all sides to find common ground. The tone of the collective stream-of-passionate-consciousness varied from angry, to desperate, to sarcastic, to sanctimonious, to fatigued.
The more of this I ingested in an attempt to connect with the logic and life experience of others, the less connected I felt to anything. I went to sleep pondering the storefronts on fire, and the pundits hollering “what if,” the tears of childless parents, the burden of the uniformed public servant, and the friendships dissolving in exasperated online dialogues. I wondered if we could ever walk a mile in anyone’s shoes when we’re all so busy throwing those shoes at each other’s heads.
I woke up to a house that was already buzzing with the frustrated kinetic energy that comes along with your mother single-handedly feeding you, clothing you, and suppressing your complaints (all while tending to her own beauty). The events of the night before weighed heavy on my mind as I showered, dressed, and loaded the oldest two of you into the car. I drove you to school in a haze, drowning out your calls for my attention with the noise in my own head.
Finally, one of you broke through-
“Dad, how fast is a brontosaurus?”
“A brontosaurus?” I repeated to myself as I slowly recognized that I was driving eastward in a freezing cold station wagon, subconsciously maneuvering to shaded spots on the road to shield the precious cargo in the back from blinding beams of sunlight. “How fast is a brontosaurus?” I repeated to myself.
“Yeah, like how fast compared to other dinosaurs?” One of you said.
“If it was losing, could it just eat whatever animal it was racing?” Said the other.
“No.” I said, laughing. “That’s not really their thing.”
You both laughed, and I could feel the cloud of ugly discussions, moral ambiguity and social unrest lift away. I was right back where I needed to be… in the present. In my present, controlling what I could control. The importance of the ongoing events in Missouri, and the rest of the world, hadn’t changed, but the noise dissipated for long enough for me to enjoy the last few minutes in the car with my boys.
I guess the purpose of this letter is to thank you. Thank you for just being yourselves, and for providing me with a purpose and solid ground to stand on when it feels like the world is spinning backwards and upside-down. Maybe clinging to the best of what we have could help us all out right about now. Maybe there is no helping the collective “us,” I don’t know. What I do know is that I found out there’s no such thing as a brontosaurus… it’s actually called an apatosaur… and I can’t wait for you to get out of school so I can tell you all about it.