Finding Empathy in Smoky Air…and Children

You know that phrase, “Be careful what you wish for?”

Yeah.

Below is the chorus of a song I wrote several years ago, about the experience of living on a small, peaceful island while the rest of the country struggles:

No man is an island, let that be my prayer

No matter how alluring be the shore.

Keep battering my senses, O you ocean of despair

Till that landlocked pain is pounding too hard to ignore.

I wrote that song in response to the death of Philando Castile, or rather, to the jury’s response in refusing to convict the policeman who shot him in front of his family. But these days, as smoke from the terrible mainland wildfires keeps us indoors day after day, “that landlocked pain” takes on a whole new meaning.

If you’re wondering why I’m not inserting a photo here of our apocalyptic skies, it’s because I don’t want to record them for posterity. Too depressing. So just picture mountains rising behind an ocean view, and then picture that lovely scene disappearing into grey nothingness.

It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in the effects of climate change before. I didn’t need convincing. But “believing” isn’t “feeling.” Real empathy, I think, requires some residue of that pain to lodge inside a person, like tiny particles in the lungs.

So I’ve been thinking about empathy–where it comes from, how we can better stimulate it in each other. And that’s when I ran across this article in a new publication on my island, “The Lopezian,” written by 29 year-old Lopezian Terrell Carter, pictured (literally) here:

(image courtesy Terrell Carter)

As you read Carter’s article, I’d like you to notice two things. One: how, indeed, “no man is an island,” and the deepening divide of mainland America is present even in our bucolic community. And Two: the natural-born empathy of young people this reporter evokes as they respond to the attack on the Say Their Names/Black Lives Matter memorial that occurred on August 12.

Meanwhile at the Skatepark…

Local youth react to vandalism across the street

By Terrell Carter

September 5, 2020

Transcript of audio:

[00:00] Intro music

Terrell Carter: This is The Lopezian: Phase Two News. I’m your host, Terrell Carter. In this issue, we turn now to the Sheriff’s Report.

Newscaster: On August 12th, the San Juan County Sheriff’s Log reports that a Lopez Island man was arrested and lodged in jail on several charges after reportedly vandalizing Black Lives Matter signs near the Village using an excavator.

Terrell Carter: Following now are reactions to this incident as recorded across the street at Lopez Skatepark.

Penelope (age 8): I know that one guy tried to lawn mow them down.

Reporter: How do you feel about that?

Penelope (age 8): I don’t know. Just like that wasn’t a right choice.

Clark (age 11): Knocking over signs is just rude.

Davis (age 11): People just, like, wanna show that they support something.

Clark (age 11): Yeah. They make too big of a deal of it. It’s just unfair, it’s mean, and rude.

[1:02] Connor (age 13): Is there any reason that they broke the sign?

Reporter: The first sign was a Trump sign that got defaced and then in response the person who owned the sign trampled over some of the Black Lives Matter signs.

Connor (age 13): Alright, uh, so I think you’d be pretty mad if someone destroyed your sign, and especially because it’s political, everyone has different opinions about it, so, it’s not right to break someone else’s property if you don’t agree with it, uh, but it is definitely wrong to uh, once you got your property destroyed, to go and break someone else’s property. Two wrongs don’t make a right and, uh, they shouldn’t have done it.

Liam (age 10): I don’t think it’s right. Because it’s kind of considered destruction of other people’s property and also if, like, somebody worked hard on it and you vandalized it, that would just be really mean.

[2:00] Reporter: Have you ever experienced uh someone destroying property or witnessed it before?

Liam (age 10): Um, well if you’re counting toys then yes. Sometimes my friends build really cool builds with Legos and other people destroy them. It’s kind of frustrating because like, when you’ve worked hard on something and then it gets destroyed.

Reporter: How about if you disagree with what’s on the sign, what then?

Liam (age 10): I won’t vandalize it. I’ll just think it in my head.

Jesse (age 14): Aren’t all those signs memorials?

Reporter: Yeah

Jesse: Aaagh. I mean, I guess, I’d say like one is like a memorial that is put up in respect of someone who lost their life. Another one is like a sign for a political party. I think that, yeah, vandalism’s bad but…they’re memorials! If there was a sign that was up for like, you know, part of my family, and, like we had a sign up, that would be, I would be devastated if someone out of spite knocked, knocked it over.

[3:16] Eloise: If they’re memorials, that’s for someone who’s dead. We should give them, we should give a lot of signs respect, but we should give them more respect because, like, they’ve lost their life. If we knock them down, that’s extremely rude.

Penny (age 7): It’s unfair that, like, white people and black people are treated different. And I think they should be treated equally. It’s just really unfair. And really sad at the same time, and like, a lot’s going on already and having the people kill other people, black people, is not helping it actually at all. It’s making it, Coronavirus, go worse. Cause then we’re losing people and it’s just unfair, unfair, unfair.

[4:21] Newscaster: Following the incident, the man involved was charged with two counts of reckless endangerment and one count of malicious mischief in the third degree. He pleaded not guilty on September 2nd and stands trial at San Juan District Court at 9:30am on Wednesday, October 14.

Terrell Carter: But the story of the signs doesn’t end there.

Reporter: Over a hundred people came together to help repair the sign. They put it back together. Uh, I’m wondering how, how that makes you feel hearing that?

Jesse: Yeah, that’s, that’s kind of epic. It’s good to see communities working together to…to…

Eloise: …to improve mistakes.

Terrell Carter: A ceremony to transition the signs and to speak the names of those honored will take place at the Community Center lawn tomorrow, Sunday, September 6th, at 12 noon. Everyone is invited to attend in support of Black Lives Matter. [05:25]

Images of POC killed by police created by multiple Lopez artists; memorial created by a small group of Lopezians; image provided by Terrell Carter

No man is an island, indeed. Those kids in this article understand that better than most adults in our country. Now, what can we do to make fresher air for all of us to breathe!

2 thoughts on “Finding Empathy in Smoky Air…and Children

  1. Really well written and I love the song lyrics, definitely relevant to today’s times. It is horrific how most don’t seem to care much at all about BLM, and would rather keep their privilege’s rather than want to make society just for everyone.

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