May’s Theme is Story
Tonight, I watched TikTok hair tutorials. I’ll never need them—not really my style, and a bit more involved than my rumple and go haircut requires. But this girl who made them had all smiles and charisma, bright-eyed joy exuding through the screen, just enough sass to let you know she knew what she was doing. I felt like I had met this girl before, saw flashes of my sister or aunt, glimpses of my former coworkers or friends. A teenager experimenting with videography. A girl just having fun. A creator hoping someone would like her videos. I cried as I watched them. Here she was. Ma’Khia Bryant.
In one profile of Adam Toledo I was looking at, it mentioned he liked Legos. He liked to build things. He rode his bike around his neighborhood. At thirteen, testing the waters of adulthood, he would sneak out of his house at night. My brother used to do that. Slip on the guise of independence. Assert a self not yet fully formed. Wondering what it would be like to be a grown adult, to have that freedom always, and learning what to do with it.
The other day, I heard that George Floyd’s murderer had been found guilty by a jury of his peers. I think it could easily become the end to a story. The one held accountable. We as people tend to like closure, putting things to bed, a satisfying conclusion. I can see it now — a fade to black followed by photo montage of police reform. I don’t think George Floyd wanted a film adaptation of his death, nor a complete fade to black. He could have wanted to work in his own neighborhood, knuckle through difficult times, watch his family grow. That would have been better. A lot could have been better.
For George. For Adam and Ma’Khia. For Eric and Michael and Tamir and Walter and Alton and Philando and Stephon and Breonna and Duante. For many others. For too many others.
We tell stories to make sense of things. To find peace or make meaning. But stories can obscure, shape reality. Bring a conclusion when it’s only the end of a scene. Hide the worth and dignity of a girl. Judge a boy as guilty who hadn’t been charged with a crime. Allow us to look away.
I read a story by Christopher Buice about a tiger trapped in a cage. Every day, a monkey visited and told the tiger how weak and powerless he was. How foolish the tiger was to be caught in a cage! So the tiger thought he was weak and powerless and foolish despite knowing he had sharp teeth and a powerful body. The tiger didn’t bother trying to break out of the cage — how could he? Then, a lion came by and told the tiger how strong the tiger was, how majestic. The next day, when the tiger felt his strength and his power, he remembered what the lion said and tried to break free. The cage wasn’t even locked.
In that story, I wonder who I am. Am I the monkey spreading stories to maintain the status quo and my own power? Am I the tiger trapped by my own self doubt and the perception of others? Or am I the lion seeing the truth and speaking it out loud? At times, I’ve been all three, but I hope to be the lion more often.
Yours in community,