To the Too Early Departed
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.
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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.