By Melissa Elias and Karen T. Escalona
The fear, anguish and reactive anger generated by the El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, slaughters this past weekend lives right here in Morris County and across New Jersey, and grows like a bloodstain across this beautiful country.
The penetrating fact is this: No-one is bullet-proof. The rapid fire from an assault weapon does not distinguish one body from the next. We can cower behind closed doors or we can unite against the bullets and the rage that pulls the trigger.
In our pain and sadness, we must come to grips with the way these executions targeted at brown and black people by young white men affects our neighbors as well as ourselves.
On Wednesday night, citizens from Morristown and the surrounding area were compelled to come out from behind closed doors on a rain-drenched street and unite in mourning at a vigil for the victims of the latest mass-shootings in America. The following are expressions from those in attendance:
I am an invader? I don’t understand. It doesn’t compute.
I feel guilty and selfish because I am thinking about my friends and family and me, here in New Jersey, not the people of El Paso.
I am sad. So sad the depth of my pain cannot be put in words. Only tears. And more tears.
I am angry, so angry. My disbelief that we have allowed this to happen again, and again and again and the anger resurges again and again and again. In the next moment I can only cry. I mourn the children, the little children, the mothers, grandmothers, grandfathers, the faceless names I hear on the radio. I arrive home to learn that my friend has been murdered, shot dead, I am in shock but I mourn him,too. My heart breaks again.
My white brothers and sisters, my brown brothers and sisters, we must all stand together. I stayed up until 3 am reading the manifesto. I don’t understand. My pain is so deep I cannot breathe.
We all bear responsibility for our children. One of our children did this. I have a 14 year old. We need to be better mothers.
If I have to give my life for who I am and what I do, so be it. I would not live my life any other way.
I have been here for 24 years and I am still undocumented. There is evil in the world. I am grateful for so many people who have helped me along the way. I have hope that we can fix this and make the country a better place again.
I come here in love.
We cannot relinquish our power to them. Just as after 9/11, we must continue to live our lives, fighting the good fight and flood the world with love and the light of our presence and our hearts. We must educate the ignorant, and one by one, we will show them the way to the light.
God understands. He will help us with his love. I have a 16-year-old.
I am confused. I have so many feelings I don’t know how to sort them out.
I live in terror. I am happy to be here, with people I trust.
We must be strong and stand together.
My family is being torn apart by political separation. I feel nothing but sadness and don’t see a way out.
Someone spit on our house. My daughter could not sleep Saturday night. She was afraid someone would burn our house down.
Now that we’ve heard our voices, what do we do as individuals? We unite, as a kind of emotional CPR. Then we discipline ourselves to remain united. We listen to each other, learn from each other, mourn, grieve and heal each other. We recognize each others vulnerabilities, exercise compassion and empathy, know and appreciate that each of us is different and unique.
It’s not a cliché to say that despite our differences, we have so very much in common. We must not only support each other, but also take the time to be gentle, kind, and honest with ourselves.
The vigil is a start in building a community of trust. Let’s continue to find ways to strengthen structures of support in our municipalities. That takes action, clear goals, and the strength of conviction to see them through.
Instead of shutting our doors or closing the blinds in fear, let’s open them wide and have the moral integrity to lead ourselves and our neighbors out of the darkness that provoked the bullets in the first place.
No one is bullet-proof. But there is a forefront of decency and justice that prevails and diminishes the rage and inhumanity–as long as the majority of citizens in our communities remains decent, caring and just.
On any given day, we can breathe life and light into our relationships with our neighbors, family and loved ones–and embolden and energize the person beside us to keep the life-force at that forefront strong.
Melissa “Missy” Elias of Madison leads the Wind of the Spirit Census 2020 Campaign. She is a former attorney and past director of the Women’s Center at the County College of Morris. Her ancestors include Irish who fled the potato famine, and English and Polish relatives who also forged new lives in the U.S. Her three grown children combine her European ancestry with their father’s French-Canadian and Syrian bloodline.
Karen T. Escalona of Morris Township volunteers with Wind of the Spirit’s census project and with NJ 11th for Change. She is eligible for membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution, and married a Cuban exile. Her children carry the genes of indigenous Taínos and African slaves; her father was the grandson of German, Irish and Slavic immigrants, and fought as a machine gunner against the Nazis—his own cousins—in World War II.