Dear Moms of Ferguson

Dear Moms of Ferguson,

I am sorry. I am sorry I have not seen your pain. I am sorry I have not cared more. I am sorry I have not tried harder to understand. I am ashamed to say it has taken months of protests, and now a week of violence for me to turn my head your way, and even then I have lacked comprehension. My ignorance is not intentional hardheartedness. It is more of the fact that what is happening is a foreign concept, as if I am watching a different country’s political unrest on a screen without knowing all the ins and outs and details of the clash. I have felt it is too complex for me to grasp, and I know there are no simple answers.  I see talking heads on all sides and I turn the channel because I know that the media is fueling the fires and I refuse to be a part of that. I watch my friends tear each other apart online in their attempts at public discourse which do nothing but further divide and separate us from one another. However, I have had a stunning revelation that in tuning all the voices out, I have also tuned out my own. I have ignored my part in the problem.  In so doing I have become like those who squawk in their ignorance…only I am silent…but just as guilty. I cannot comprehend; therefore I have not tried very hard and for that I say to you, I am so very sorry.

This week there has been a change in my heart…a tug and I believe that the God I say I serve is speaking to me. He is whispering, “There is something here causing ME pain, take notice. Do not harden your heart any longer. Pay attention.” His words to me caused me to first to bow in repentance and then to ponder, and read, and listen, and try. In short, I have begun to tune in… in order to weigh and measure, to feel and to care, because if it is grieving him I want to feel what he feels and SEE through his eyes.

Some of my thoughts have become clearer as I have pondered and prayed. Over the course of my life I have learned that anger is a red flag that covers pain. It is like a signal to take notice of, and when it flares it is usually because there is some hurt or rejection underneath. When I or someone around me touches that spot in my heart, I flare up. It is a self-protect response. And I have learned that the anger itself is in direct proportion to the wound it covers. Since I have found this is true of me, I have also tried to be more sensitive to the anger of others. Seeing the outrage and violence in Ferguson this past week, caused me to pause (regretfully for the first time) and when I did, I spotted the enormity of the pain underneath the backlash. The depth of what I saw took my breath away and broke my heart to pieces, particularly for you moms. I guess because I am one, I relate to you the most.

Moms, how do you do it? How to you send your boys out into a world knowing that they will not be given the benefit of the doubt? Do you sit in worry and wonder? Do you wring your hands? I am the mother of four young adults, three sons and one daughter. They are spreading their wings, and I must say, doing it much differently than I did. Not always the steps I would take or would desire for them to take, but they are making their way. It is difficult to watch them flounder and struggle in a world with many less opportunities than were previously available. And due to my own difficult circumstances my hands are tied to be of much help. (Not to mention my mouth is not listened to as often as I would like. 🙂 ) As challenging as these issues may be in my small world, my sons have one thing in their corner that yours do not. The benefit of the doubt. Along the way, less-than-wise decisions have been made, yet in each instance I received a call informing me of the situation and allowing me the chance to “handle it” with my sons. The realization that this would not have been the case if my sons were black came crashing in on me this week. A rude awakening of sorts.

What I saw is that the cycle of trust is in operation for me and mine, and the cycle of distrust is for you and yours. (I realize this may not be true for all of us all the time…but I am speaking in generalities here…just trying to wrap my brain around it in a way I can relate to.) These cycles operate in all relationships…spouses, co-workers, bosses, friendships, and also between races in cultures all over the world. So here’s a simple real life example. My son took a knife to school. He was young, in kindergarten. It was a pocket knife…Swiss army with all the gadgets and he thought it was very cool. He found it in a kitchen cabinet and put it in his backpack to show his friends, who he just knew would also think it was cool. I was unaware of his choice, or that the knife found its way into his backpack.

(It was before the worst of the school violence and I am aware, being a teacher myself, that this would not ever happen the same way in this current day. But for the sake of illustration I will use this as an example of what the cycle of trust looks like.)

Back to the story…He pulled the knife out of his pocket on the playground and showed it to his friend, who immediately screamed at the top of his lungs, “He’s got a knife!!!” while running away from my son. This prompted more screams and panic ensued. Everyone moved away from my son and pointed at him yelling, “He’s got a knife! He’s got a knife!” He burst into tears and tried to hide the knife back in his pocket. The teacher intervened. She retrieved the knife. Questioned my son… who could not speak through his tears. Questioned the boy and then feeling it was an innocent error on my son’s part…gave the benefit of the doubt to my son. She called me and told me what happened, and that if I wanted the knife back she had it in her desk for me to come pick up. Her trust in my son encouraged her to make a call to me, which caused me to discipline my son, which resulted in him apologizing, and me picking up the knife, which confirmed to her that her trust was well placed. The cycle of trust in operation.

If this had happened to your black son it is possible the cycle of trust would have still been in operation, but it is also possible that the opposite would have occurred. The teacher might have not fully trusted your son, and therefore she would have contacted the principal…or the police, which would cause you to become defensive for your child, which would result in arguments and finger pointing which would confirm their distrust of you and your son. The friction would remain and the cycle would continue and like ripples on a pond it spreads. Multiply this many times, and over many generations and you have a powder keg of hurt on all sides…all stemming from distrust of one another. One spark…or many…ignites the explosion which rages out of control…damaging people as it rolls, and moms stand in the midst of it all hoping their tears will quench the flames, but knowing that is not likely to happen.

I am one simple woman whose heart breaks for your pain. It is my hope that you feel the heartfelt truth of that statement. To stop the cycle of distrust someone has to choose to make a change.  I know of no other way to do so than to say, please forgive my ignorance. And please accept my apology. My prayer is that God’s grace would cover us all, that we would see each other through his eyes, and feel for one another through his heart. That as moms we would use our passionate love for our children to fuel our choices for change and that God would grant us the courage and strength to make those changes. That my own voice would not be silent, and that my words would express the love of God towards all people. That we would all be thankful his paintbrush was not only one color and that he used a multitude of shades to paint his love of humanity. That we would know that at the foot of the cross the ground is level for us all to bow, side by side together in our worship. That God would use the changes we make to paint a beautiful picture of reconciliation that would bring peace to our children. Amen.

Respectfully and sincerely,

Michelle Gunnin

peace hands

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