Step Into the Sun: On Finding Joy in the Midst of the Fight for Justice
I watched Alton Sterling die by accident. I didn’t mean to. I didn’t want to. But there I was, sitting on the edge of my bed scrolling down Twitter when I came across the video. There was no caption, no trigger warning, just a grainy thumbnail. My curiosity won, so I hit play. My whole life hit pause.
Had I just witnessed an execution? I hit play again and again and again. I wanted to make sense of what I saw. Just like my childhood habit of pushing my tongue against aching teeth even when it was excruciating, I kept watching the video, rubbing in the pain. I stopped when I realized I was rocking back and forth.
But even when I was ready to stop hurting, I couldn’t. Videos and screenshots were splashed across every social media platform. I watched others mourn. I saw others screaming their rage. I saw racists express apathy. Some provided justifications, and others celebrated a black man’s death. And less than 24 hours later, another video, another man, another hashtag was making the rounds. And less than 24 hours after that, 11 police officers were shot in Dallas. Five of them died.
I started to feel like I was losing my mind. I’ve woken up to the sun blazing through my window every morning this week. On the day that Alton died. On the day that Philando died. On the day five officers died. My bedroom has been filled with a light that hasn’t been able to reach my heart. Everywhere I turned, there was more darkness to be seen.
Thursday, I went to see my counsellor. I needed care. My mental health was suffering. I was spiralling into the depression I spend every day fighting. I sat in my counsellor’s office and asked her to tell me how to cope. She told me what I already knew: look away, just for a little.
So if I knew, why didn’t I do it? Why couldn’t I wrench my eyes away and stop writing about it or talking about it? Guilt. I felt bad about the prospect of turning my back, even for a moment, because I didn’t want to feel like I was choosing to be blind. I know many others feel this way, like we can’t stop mourning.
But if you are a human of any race with a conscience and an ounce of sympathy, this is heavy. If you are black, the weight of this will crush your soul. I know this because after Mike Brown’s murder last year, I lost 5 pounds because I was unable to eat or sleep. This pain is too weighty to carry all the time. You will buckle under it. Put it down.
I chose to unplug from the matrix this weekend. Just like you, I've been walking under a storm cloud all week, getting drenched in sadness, heartache, anger and fear. I'm soaked through with pain. I just need a moment to put it down. I need to step out of the downpour and into the sun for a little bit. Don’t mistake my happy pictures and trivial memes and silly statuses for apathy. I have not forgotten. I have not stopped caring. I’ve just stepped into the sunshiny part of life for a while because I still deserve joy in the midst of this sadness. And so do you.
Log out of your social media. Turn off the TV. Shut down any conversations you’re not able or ready to have. Go out and stand in the sunshine. Walk barefoot in the grass. Eat ice cream. Drink a glass of wine, or a shot of rum, or five. Hug your family members. Shake your hips to happy music. See a movie. Go bowling. Do something that makes you happy. You are not wrong for that. You’re not selfish. You are human, you are traumatized, and you need care. Give yourself permission to take time to bandage your wounds and treat your pain. Step into the sun, beloved, just for a while.