Death on the streets and on the screen
Murder and cancer deaths are real. So is resurrection
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A New York moment: Late last week I was on a corner in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, where a man had just been shot and killed. Someone had washed the man’s trail of blood off the sidewalk. The family wept, while neighbors came by to light candles and offer condolences to the man’s mother. She sat stricken on a beat-up office chair on the sidewalk next to the candles. Police sat in a patrol car on the corner, keeping a distance. One man came by, bent over with anger and grief, and muttered, “Someone will have to answer for this.”
Neighborhood pastors and others urged the man to think about how a revenge shooting, in addition to being wrong, might hit a bystander, like a child. The spike in New York City’s shootings, which mirrors other cities around the country (including Republican-run ones like Tulsa, Okla.), appears to be partly gang-driven. Shootings beget retaliatory shootings.
I thought about the man’s comment over the weekend, as the news came in about another death, that of actor Chadwick Boseman, who embodied the royal dignity of King T’Challa in Marvel’s Black Panther. Boseman died from colon cancer at age 43. The man killed in Brooklyn was 41.
Someone has to answer for the deaths of a man who died too young from colon cancer and a man who died violently, whatever his backstory was, because death is wrong. At the site of the Brooklyn shooting, local pastor Charles Galbreath said: “We’re here to declare that this is not normal … that we all have worth and value … that our young people are kings and queens.” He prayed for young people to know “who they are and Whose they are.”
Regardless of the circumstances of the homicide—police said it was gang-related—it brought pain even to people unconnected with this man. I was walking the block with other Brooklyn mothers who had lost sons to gun violence. After they bear-hugged the mother of this most recent victim, one of them, Pamela Hight, was so overwhelmed she walked away and had to stop in the street and bend over to catch her breath.
“Why, every time I hug a mother, I feel the pain?” said Hight, who lost two sons to violence. “That’s a feeling you don’t want to feel.” Without knowing the details of this man or his story, the moms could feel the wrongness of it.
After Boseman’s death, people widely shared a video on social media of him on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, where Black Panther fans talked about what the superhero meant to them, and then Boseman would step out from behind a curtain to surprise them and give them a hug. I think part of the power of that video, after Boseman’s death, is the hint of resurrection there. People thought they were just talking to a poster, and then: Look! The real, live King T’Challa is right there, stepping from behind a curtain.
Only Jesus provides us both with someone who will “answer for” deaths, violent or otherwise, and with resurrection life. The dark things of the world are not all they appear to be. So as we weep and long for better things, we also can know that Christ will surprise us with justice, and he will surprise us with resurrection. And those in Christ will one day step through that curtain, surprised by joy.
This week I learned: The New York Police Department has 37 full-time scuba divers who conduct rescues and search for evidence and bodies in the waters surrounding New York City. Apartment-bound New Yorkers, including myself, can sometimes forget that they live on an island.
Culture I am consuming: Lenox Hill, a new documentary series from Netflix about a hospital in Manhattan. Having done reporting in hospitals and having visited this hospital recently, I found it to be a very realistic portrayal of the daily chaos and drama that doctors live through. There’s some cursing, but otherwise, it’s a series I would highly recommend, with a rare fly-on-the-wall look inside operating rooms, emergency rooms, and patients’ bedsides.
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