Thursday, November 7, 2013
My encounter with an 8-year African American male last Sunday left me with a range of emotions. I met him during a stop to get some very expensive gas in Clinton, North Carolina. He appeared to have been traveling with his family who had also stopped for gas. He was outside the family vehicle roaming around having a conversation with anyone who would listen. He approached my car and asked me if I knew several people who he called by name. In each case I replied that I did not know the person. Following my response he would tell me who the person was and point them out to me. These people were members of his traveling party and apparently his family. “Do you know Shirley Thompson,” he would say. “That’s my aunt,” and he would point to the person in the SUV. He then repeated the names and asked me if I knew the person. I responded “I do now.” He seemed pleased that I now knew the persons that he has just introduced to me. I reminded him that while he has introduced me to several people, he had not told me his name. “My name is Addison” he replied in a strong voice that denoted a sense of confidence. I told him that I thought Addison was a great name. He seemed pleased. I was next in line to pump gas and pulled my car forward to begin the process. As I began pumping gas, I was again approached by Addison who said” hello, I see you again.” The conversation shifted to an area that troubled me, especially coming from an 8-year old.
Addison is a small African American male. He communicates well and speaks in a voice that suggests confidence, strength and poise. Dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, he is the prototype of someone his age in this country. He comes across as very intelligent with a pleasant and pleasing personality. His communicative style was engaging but not overbearing. It has a maturity which suggests his conversational partners may primarily be adults. I can imagine that he is quite a handful at school and home. His energy and inquisitive nature can sometime be difficulty for parents and teachers to handle. He needs and seems to demand attention. I was impressed with his ability to listen.
He asked if I knew that this father had died. He said “my father got shot last night and we went to his funeral just now.” “Last night!” I responded in a voice that denoted surprise and compassion. Addison’s presentation of his father’s death and funeral was void of sadness or emotional connection. He then asked if I wanted to see a picture of his father in the casket. I nodded in the affirmative and he approached his mother who was standing outside of the vehicle on the passenger side. She appeared disinterested in him or our conversation. She reached into her back pocket, removed a cell phone, apparently turned to the photo section and handed the phone to Addison. Addison in turn gave me the phone to view the picture. It was a young, maybe mid-thirties, African American male lying in a coffin who had died as a result of gunshot. This is an all too common story in many part of these United States. I was sad and viewing this picture and talking to Addison about it gave me a strange feeling.
How does an 8-year old deal with losing his father and the graphic representation of his death on a cell phone. Is the gravity of this event, death, minimized or exacerbated by the picture. His face did not suggest sadness. His eyes were bright with a softness of caring. He could not express it but his eyes could not lie. There was something missing and something tells me it was not just the loss of his father. It was as if his soul had been scarred and the manifestation was emotional detachment. The coping strategy is probably age-appropriate; reduce the death to a game or photograph on a cell phone.
“This is my daddy,” as he spoke with a sense of pride. Or at least he used to be, he left when I was two.” This time he spoke without pride but with a slight sense of anger and disappointment. “He still is” blurted his mother. These were the only words uttered during my brief encounter with Addison. Maybe that explains what I saw in his eyes. Will that memory become a permanent albatross or a source of motivation? Only time will tell.
There was one last conversation to have with Addison. “Where are you going,” he asked. Durham, I replied. “That’s a long ways,” he said. I said “yes it is.” Then Addison with all the sincerity and maturity that defied his youth said “you be careful.” I want desperately to believe that based upon that statement and the manner in which it was delivered, that Addison will be alright.
I immediately began thinking about Addison and his future. What are the consequences of seeing your father as an 8-year old in a casket after being shot. What message does this event send to Addison. How much of this does he really understand. I pray that Addison will grow up to be a strong black man with the courage and conviction to make the world a better place. I hope he achieves greatness. His spirit is strong and pure. Thank you for allowing me to see the kindred spirit that binds us all together. And I say to you as you said to me as I drove off on that beautiful Sunday afternoon. BE CAREFUL.