To the Too Early Departed

Image from Shutterstock by Carlos Castilla

Shaunesse' is a PhD student at Boston University studying ethics and theology, and is an Interfaith America Racial Equity Media Fellow.

 

Music. What a beautiful and universal word. Regardless of language and culture, bodies can always engage the sounds, tempos, and lyrics that comprise music. I’m in love with music. I listen to numerous genres throughout the day. I dance and sing along when I’m in my car. I share playlists and specific songs when I can’t quite find the words to articulate my emotions. I work and cry and laugh and love and eat and live to music. In fact, I was feeling quite nostalgic this past month and began listening to the top 100 songs from the years 2005 to 2009. In case you need these playlists in your life, here they are: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009.

These 500 songs were the songs of my adolescence. As I went back in time, I remembered the school dances, break-ups, movie nights, sibling rants, car rides, and track meets that happened as backdrops to these songs. I figurately watched my younger self awkwardly singing and dancing to many of them each morning during MTV’s Jumpstart as I got ready for school (special recognition to Mariah Carey’s “We Belong Together”, “Leona Lewis’s “Bleeding Love”, Rascal Flatts’ “What Hurts the Most”, and The Black-Eyed Peas’ “Boom Boom Pow”). And I witnessed my evolution as a person with emotions, thoughts, relationships, and desires who was ever-learning of her place in the world.  

What a privilege it is to reminisce to the soundtracks of one’s childhood. It wasn’t until this past month that I understood what privileges reminiscing and childhood are. No matter the memory, the ability to grow older and look back on life is a privilege. And it’s heartbreaking and disturbing that as a nation we’ve witnessed so many children robbed of that privilege because they were killed by the state. I chose the years 2005 to 2009 because I was 13 to 17 years old then. I lived through the ages that Adam Toledo, Ma’Khia Bryant, Peyton Ham, and Anthony Thompson, Jr. were killed. And those are just some of the children we know from the past thirty days, children who will never have the privilege of growing older and looking back, children who were fatally wounded because they were seen as threats

What song were they singing when they awoke that morning? What mini dance party did they have to themselves when no one was watching? What was the soundtrack that got them through the previous night’s homework assignments? What artist did they blast through their headphones to drown out the noise around them as they walked into school? What music made the playlist to their shortened lives? These are the questions I’ve been pondering as I’ve scoured the internet for pictures that reflected their adolescence. You see, I’ve been desperate to see pictorial representations of them as who and what they were, children.

As I watch the 13-to-17-year-olds with whom I volunteer, I’m amazed at how young they are. Their entire lives are before them and all their adolescent problems seem like the end of the world. They’re tiny and awkward in stature. They’re goofy with their syntax as they search for appropriate words. They’re caustic and unrelenting with their humor once they get comfortable and deem you worthy of their jokes. They’re uninformed about so much of life because they’re still enjoying their childhoods. This is what was taken from the Adam’s, Ma’Khia’s, Peyton’s, and Anthony’s of this country. They were presumed to be adults and robbed of their childhoods, and now they join a dark and dangerous list of those who should have been. They were not allowed to live, and in a way, they will never be able to die as we add them to the music of the movement.

I’ve wept all week thinking about these children. I couldn’t console myself and needed to turn to songs of sorrow. I was relived to find two playlists specifically created to address the grief and loss of children. As I listened to the well of sadness and hope from each artist, I began to wonder. I wonder if these children are resting peacefully in the afterlife, or if they are grieving alongside their families and communities. Do they still hear their mothers’ cries and fathers’ strained breaths? Can they feel their siblings and friends reaching out for them and invoking their names as they try to make sense of a world that snatches them away too soon? I wonder if children are spiritually exhausted each time they meet their peers, or if they’re overjoyed because they get to build a new world that isn’t controlled by the abuses and harms of adults in the here and now. I wonder what life-giving and life-affirming music they’re creating and what songs they’re looking back on, or if they’re listening alongside our grief playlists and tire each second from mourning what could have been. Are they leading us to the songs they want us to join in on listening so that our spirits can meet in an ethereal space free of -isms and violence? Or are they trapped by the sounds that bring us comfort, desperately pushing the tempo of our grief to help us all return to sounds of joy and pleasure. I wonder.

In my wondering, it is my sincerest prayer that the too-early-departed are creating music fit for bountiful futures and healthy spirits free of pain, death, and violence; that they are dancing freely and singing mellifluously; that they visit us with their newfound joy that we may remember their childhoods and honor their hoped-for adulthoods; that they will always know music that affirms their lives.

If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

more from IFYC

The expansion is fueled by concerns over political polarization on college campuses, an infusion of funds from foundations interested in bridge-building, and a merger with IFYC, which has a track record facilitating interfaith engagement.
Ancient rabbis imagined the great chain of tradition, that went from generation to generation, as a ball that is tossed, playfully, from teacher to student. Is there a "Lasso Torah" inside a television show about a fish-out-of-water Midwestern football coach?
Studies show houses of worship have provided solace during the pandemic, but companies across the U.S. are struggling to respond to requests for religious exemptions to vaccine mandates.
Catholics leaders have urged vaccination to "protect the most vulnerable," and studies show this outreach is helping improve vaccination rates among Latino Catholics.
Across the country, people from all political divides, faiths and walks of life are coming together to help resettle Afghan refugees arriving at the borders.
The first episode of “Home Sweet Home,” which DuVernay said prioritizes curiosity over conflict, features the Wixx family — a “super queer” Black couple with three children.
Each week, we share our top 10 religion stories from journals, news sites, podcasts and magazines.
Dr. Abel Gomez: "If we’re talking about interfaith work and we want to expand the ability of communities to practice their religious ceremonies, I ask my students: if we think about the experience of Native people under the occupation of the United States, do they actually have religious freedom?"
The Fisk Jubilee Singers, based at the historically Black university founded by the abolitionist American Missionary Association and later tied to the United Church of Christ, started traveling 150 years ago on Oct. 6, 1871.
The last several months have been catastrophic for Haiti. The Aug. 14 earthquake left more than 2,200 people dead, followed by Tropical Depression Grace two days later. The country’s political sector has been in disarray & over 22,000 people have officially died during the pandemic.
Apache Stronghold will take part in a day of prayer Saturday (Oct. 9) at Oak Flat before meeting with leaders of the Tohono O’odham Nation, who will offer a blessing and prayer for their travels.
It’s not just interactions with friends and families that are getting cut. Routine yet beneficial interactions with people at fitness and child care centers and volunteer organizations are also being eliminated.
Ismaili Jamatkhanas are designed to be both places of worship and community engagement, so when the chance to conduct a vaccine drive became a possibility, volunteers mobilized quickly.
Amid personal and professional crises, the author writes that she finds her Christian faith "one of the most fruitful sources of hope, even in the darkest hours."
Facebook has been a catalyst for religious communities that aren’t defined geographically. For religious leaders who connect with their flocks on the internet, the outage was a reminder to own their information.
The pedestal that propped up the statue of Junipero Serra looks bare at first glance, but once a smartphone camera is aimed toward it, an animated monument honoring the Tongva, the Indigenous people of Los Angeles, comes alive.
A Lutheran church in Wisconsin recently hosted an interfaith dialogue between a pagan and Lutheran pastor. They will continue the conversation this month in an event hosted by the Parliament of the Worlds Religions in Chicago.
The articles and videos are by and about inspiring Latinx/a/o interfaith leaders from diverse religious communities.
Our top 10 religion stories of the week show religious pluralism as an opportunity, not a cause for despair. They're also great reads.
The law, possibly the first of its kind in the nation, is part of a larger effort by women athletes to have more say about what they wear while competing.
"We are American faith leaders from six different faith traditions, including yours," said a letter to President Joe Biden. "We see our nation continuing to spectacularly fail in welcoming the stranger."

The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.