Grief is a powerful dual-edged emotion that can result in a dull, undulating pain which can be paralyzing and suffocating or, if channeled appropriately, can swell into rage and anger that moves each of us — or societies — to do things that once seemed impossible. Such collective grief, outrage and injustice sparked the “fierce urgency of Now” movement against gradualism decades ago and, I believe, resulted in the election of President Barack Obama, our nation’s first Black president more than forty years later.
Today, we are in another unique, but tenuous moment that has the potential to move our nation toward unity as the verdict from the deaths of Messrs. Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber was announced, and another verdict for the death of Mr. Ahmaud Arbery hangs in the balance. How we respond in this moment — to our neighbors, in our communities and to our fellow Americans — can make all the difference in a united future. Indeed, future generations and our children will reflect on this moment and judge how we responded to these tragedies and to our fellow Americans.
However, it is not incumbent on us alone to repair this nation. Our nation’s leadership must respond to these crises with the same “fierce urgency of Now” that was required many years ago. Today, the Build Back Better Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives, our nation’s leaders beamed as they touted the “honor of passing legislation for the people.” But these are the very same leaders who stripped job and wage protections for millions of newly bereaved Americans during a pandemic and concurrency of devastation that has resulted in most of us having at least one, and in some cases more, empty chairs at our holiday tables.
If today’s verdict and legislation are a reflection of our values, perhaps we should all be reexamining America’s values, power structures and leaders to determine if they align with the collective experiences of everyday Americans like me and like you.
I am one of those newly bereaved Americans with two empty chairs at our dinner table this year, but I am far from alone. We are a nation in mourning and no one is exempt. With more than 765,000 deaths from COVID-19 alone and multiple mortality epidemics from overdose, suicide, homicide, maternal mortality, mass murder events, and impending disasters from climate change, death, grief, and mourning are raging in every community and touching most hearts in America.
We can no longer afford to be a nation divided or allow our leaders to remain disconnected from our shared life experiences. Let us shed our differences and attend to our common pains because Americanism will be measured and remembered by how we show up for one another during these paralyzing and suffocating moments. We must allow our collective grief to alter this state of chaos and begin to sew our common bonds of shared humanity toward love and brotherhood.
We must say: You’re not alone. We will not allow the quicksands of grief or injustice to swallow you. I will stand next to you. I will outstretch my hand and hold you tight.
This is our unique moment to harness the power of grief and “make real the promise of democracy.” So that forty years from now, more remarkable advancements in America will become our shared reality.
So, what can you do?
In this delicate moment, here are five suggestions:
1) Go outside your comfort zone and make a new friend.
Seek a person who you know has lost a loved one and with whom your values may not be aligned. Get to know them. Get to know their loved one. Do not allow others to drive your perceptions.
2) Support Black and Brown voices.
As these verdicts emerge, use your voice and use your hand to help and hold our fellow Americans to let them know that you stand with them.
3) Hold your federal officials accountable.
Call your U.S. elected officials and ask why paid bereavement leave was stripped from the Build Back Better Act during a global pandemic and multiple mortality crises? Call (202) 224–3121 and ask for your federal official.
4) Show your elected officials who you have lost.
Send a photo of your loved one to your elected officials and let them know that people like you would benefit from advancements in bereavement policies, programs and investments.
5) Tag us on social and let us know who you have lost.
Who will not be at your dinner table this holiday season? We want to know.