I have to admit something here.
The vast majority of people I know are very, very upset about the situation in Ferguson, Missouri, and across the country as a whole. They are crying, they are protesting, they are taking concrete actions to end police brutality. You can feel their pain radiating out of their souls, pain which cannot be eased until the country changes, and the country cannot change until society changes. I feel their pain; I absorb it.
But at the same time – I look around at all of my friends upset about Ferguson, and I feel nothing. That is, nothing out of the ordinary. And it has taken me a number of weeks to realize why.
If you have a jar, and you fill it with rice, say, and the jar is full, what happens if you keep filling it?
It will overflow. It will continue to overflow, but the inside of the jar itself will not change. It was full to begin with, and it will continue to be full.
If my heart were a jar, if the pains of the world were grains of rice, such would be the state of my soul, now, and perpetually.
It is not that I do not feel terrible about Ferguson. I do. My heart aches for these people. But at the same time, I cannot feel any more pain that that which I am already feeling. The jar has been overflowing for a long, long time for me, and pouring on more rice won’t affect how I feel on a day to day basis.
The truth is that yes, I feel terrible. But how can I isolate the one grain of rice that is Michael Brown? I feel terrible on the majority of days I am alive, but in all honesty, I have become so inured to the (psychosomatic, but still very real) pain that I tend to note its absence, not its presence. I notice joy, happiness, excitement. I feel all of these things, but they are short and fleeting compared to the pain. This is what living my life is. This is what it has always been.
I cannot weep for Michael Brown, because then I would need to weep for Nancy Fitzmaurice, and Alex Spourdalakis, and Vincent Phan, and all the other lovely people on this planet who some idiot decided should no longer be here. If I wept for Michael Brown, I would never stop.
My church community is big on going to vigils and protests. I cannot do either of those things. I have a very, very difficult time with crowds of any sort, and crowds that are chanting or singing would be even worse. Conversations with strangers are difficult at best. I am terrified that, should I go to an event where people are upset and sensitive already, I would make a social mistake, would say something that people would take offense at, would hurt people accidentally. I also know that, quite frankly, my facial expressions and non-verbal behavior do not match up with what people expect. I get confused easily. Attending a large event for me requires someone to help me understand what is going on, and I would never impose that burden on someone who is already angry, already grieving, just so that I could feel as if I was ‘doing’ something.
It is times like these that I wish I were a theist. Theists have it so simple. A few words, aloud or in their head and bam! They’ve done something. Some magical guy in the sky is going to listen to them and change things for the better. I’ve tried prayer – it doesn’t work for me. I get no warm feelings or sense of calm. I am basically immune to the placebo effect, which is what I think the majority of prayer is. But I envy theists – their calmness, their surety. I envy that they can find comfort there in times like these, times when I cannot.
I cannot pray for Michael Brown. I cannot weep for him. What I can do, what I try to do in my everyday life, is to challenge racism on a personal level, to educate myself about the issues, to avoid stereotypes and to be empathetic to those who are mourning in a more public and physical way.
But I worry. I worry that isn’t enough. I worry about the young black autistic men I know, and I worry about all the black men I know. I keep thinking about William. William is one of exactly three people with one x and one y chromosome who I will allow to touch me beyond a handshake. William I will allow to hug me; I actually welcome his hugs. (This may not seem like such a big deal to you, but please, trust me, it is. It is huge.) William *gets this*, he gets me, and I get him, and I worry that Michael Brown was the only person who could hug someone, or that Eric Garner was the only person someone trusted.
I worry. But I do not weep.