When I was a little girl my grandpa would encourage me to sit and talk. Sometimes he would say, “tell me something good Tojo.” There were other times he would ask me about something I had said or done or he might make a comment and wait for me to respond. I guess, it does not matter what sparked the dialogue, but what is important is that it would happen. Even more important than that was that he would listen.
As a precocious, sensitive, creative, old soul of a child, he was often my saving grace. I often felt misunderstood and out of place. I escaped into the crevices of my mind imagining myself growing up in another city or country thinking that would have made my life easier. Only now do I realize that I would be who I was going to be no matter where I was. Still, traveling, even if only in my dreams, was an important coping mechanism for me as a child.
My grandpa worked long, hard hours at the steel mill. Cut and strong, he was fit his entire life. That’s how I remember him. He never blinked when I asked tough questions, his southern drawl would just stretch out a “welllll…” as he paused to think. I could go hard– questioning religion or race, comment on my uncles or aunts, challenge my mother’s perspective. He listened. Maybe that’s what we need right now? A communal elder to be a sounding board for all of the sadness, frustration and anger that is floating in the air.
I was reading online news media and came across an article on the Trayvon Martin case and the trial of George Zimmerman. After reading it and realizing that today is Trayvon’s birthday I searched for a picture of him to post on Facebook. I found a graphically enhanced image that is so angelic it’s almost haunting. Looking into his eyes brought tears to mine. Ironically, I had just finished blasting “All Gold Everything” to wrap up my musical breakfast of A Tribe Called Quest and KRS One. Except for the occasional whistling of the radiator and the hum coming from the fridge in the kitchen, my place is silent. The quiet has brought me little comfort.
It’s funny how discomfort can send us back to our childhood, back to familiar spaces as we search within our souls for safety. My grandfather has been gone for two decades now, but I still think of him in moments like this. I can see young Toni, strong yet with such a fragile heart, wanting answers to the world’s contradictions, wanting someone to explain injustice, to make the wrong make sense or at least sound right. Years later, I sit across the country on the East Coast and not the West, I sit at my desk in my apartment instead of a rocking chair at my grandparents’ home, I am a well-traveled adult with credentials and life experience to boot, but still I long for someone who cares about my peace of mind and the emotional wellness of all people, to explain why this kind of injustice is even possible. I get that there are laws and policies. I understand that there is government and agencies but what about humanity? What about righteousness and fairness? I don’t expect any answers and I’m evolved enough to know that wishing my grandfather from the dead won’t help, but memories can sometime serve as comfort even if only for a few moments.