What do you want to be…

It had become their custom –

especially during these pandemic times,
once the tightest restrictions were lifted
(for how long could it be that everyone remained isolated,
quarantined in their homes,
alone and apart from everyone else
in their usually noisy, active neighborhood)
and now that summer had arrived with day after day
of clear, cloudless, azure-blue skies,
making the storms of the spring season a distant memory –

to gather on the stoops of their homes,
alternating so that no one would, could claim primacy,
for such was the egalitarian spirit of their little community.

On occasion, appropriately physically-distant,
they played kick ball
depending on who was present,
they’d double-dutch jump rope.
For it was an acquired skill.
Most anyone could turn the dual bands,
but not everyone dared to leap
into the opposite-direction rapidly simultaneously twirling strands,
and then, in a syncopated march of in-step skipping feet,
to become one with the rhythm of the ropes.

When, finally, fatigued, they’d sit again on another stoop;
there to talk about the events of the days and of their years.

“Do you think school will be open come August?”
“I hope so. I miss seeing all of our friends.”
“Me, too.”
“Yes, me, too.”

“It sure got hot.”
“Yeah, overnight.”
“Quick, fast, and in a hurry!”
“A real heat-wave.”
“Doesn’t look like it’ll break soon.”
“Nope, it sure doesn’t.”

A frigid silence, at first, over them suspended,
like a hefty winter cloak, descended,
sweeping over them, enfolding them;
no one wanting to be the first to air
what everyone knew was in the air.

Finally, Ruthie, ever the boldest,
most boisterous
(though she, too, had shared in their momentary collective quiet),
and, as all always confirmed,
the brightest among them, finally said,

“Okay, what do you all think about…”
“And Breonna?”
“And George?”
“And Rayshard?”

With each name
(none needing the addition of a surname,
for all felt bound to them as family;
distant relatives,
older, as yet unmet,
and, now, never to be met siblings of different mothers and fathers)
their voices lowered, almost to a whisper,
which, without saying
(they, each and all, knew)
was the murmur of lamentation;
their inner, individual spirits joined in communal voice.

“And,” Ruthie breaking the silence, raising her head, eying her friends, then clasping her hands, spoke slowly, solemnly, “Addie Mae Collins, Carol Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley.”

Who are they?”

“Who were they. The four little girls killed in the bombing, almost sixty years ago, of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, by the Ku Klux Klan. Three of them were fourteen. One was eleven. Our ages. They were us before we are us.”

“Okay, Ruthie, you brought all this…all them up. What do you think?”

“I don’t think. I feel.”

“Alright, then, what do you feel?”

“I feel afraid.”

Afraid? Afraid of what?”

“Afraid to ask ourselves what do we want to be not when, but if we grow up?”

© 2020 PRA

2 thoughts on “What do you want to be…

  1. Paul,

    I’m going to be honest!! I have to read your blog at specific times, I think Gayle has said that too…. cause you’re going to learn something! I should know better not to read anything you write before I speak. But I did it today anyway!!

    This post could be the start of a really Soul-stirring Novella. This stirred up all kinds of stuff in mind… the thought of NOT growing up is heartbreaking!! When I tutored kids in NE DC while in college at Catholic Univ NONE of them expected to live to see their prom or get a driver’s license and they were told that by their parents that they’d likely be killed by fellow gang members. Then later on down south I met people who also expected to die early on but this time by a white person who hated them for no reason other than their race. They too were told that by their parents. My parents and grandparents, just like yours told us the opposite.. that we MUST do well and BE well…I always want to have that belief that young people will someday have hope that they WILL grow up and have the opportunity to be whatever they want…..

    Thank you for this haunting look inside the minds of today’s young people.

    Much love!


  2. Loretta, dearest, always, I thank you for reading, reflecting, and responding to my posts.

    Your comment, “Thank you for this haunting look inside the minds of today’s young people,” brought me up short. Who am I to think, to feel that I can channel the thoughts and feelings of young folk? Nevertheless, as I wrote this piece or, rather, more truly, as the words rushed up from my soul and poured themselves out through my fingers on the keyboard, they felt to me to be real, to be true. I fear for our children. This very morning, I read a post from a mother who recounted a moment with one her children who asked her to go with him as he walked the family dog, saying, “I’m afraid I might be shot.” She shared that her other children poked fun at their sibling, saying that she (their mother) was as likely to be shot, to which the child said, solemnly, “I don’t want to die alone.” This is where we are now! Horrible! Let us pray and act to do…to be better as a society than one that eats its young.

    Lord, have mercy, Christ, have mercy, Lord, have mercy!

    Love you.

    Be stay. Stay safe.

    Love you again.


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