The first time I witnessed death steal away a life I was only 16. It was outside “Furmans” our neighborhood market where I had been safely trading old glass bottles for candy bars since I was a child. What my eyes witnessed that sunny day rocked my soul for many years to come. Over the years, however, death became a common acquaintance. So much so that he did not scare me or shock me anymore. I would find myself somewhere between a spectator and a participant in the front row watching him do his destruction. I used to silently cry for the “actors” in death’s play but that turned into a callous and bitter commentary of how poorly the actors prepared themselves for that moment.
That moment, is heart wrenching.
I can see every face and hear every tear. The 16 year old boy who hung himself, the 19 year old young man who with his last breath grabbed the fireman next to me and begged us to save him, the burned and mutilated body of an 18 month old child, the young man shot to death in his drive way, the 16 year old girl crushed in her new Honda, and the list goes on. These moments coupled with years of responding to humans doing heinous acts to one another ripped and tore away any childhood goodness I had at one time.
People ask me where does my passion, my drive come from. I usually just smile and say I don’t know, but that is a lie. It comes from each and every one of those heart-breaking moments. But please understand, my passion did not just bloom out of this heinous mountain of death. No, it was formed under pressure. I tried everything to get the screaming families out of my head. I wrestled with bingeing on alcohol just to sleep. I ran like a coward away from caring about anyone or anything. I myself was slowly dying inside from the pain of it all and I waged an internal war against life itself. I hated everyone including my cowardly self. Something had to change. I had to change. To save myself. I had to find hope somewhere, anywhere.
My first choice was to stop running--to turn and face this demon of death and destruction. I had to look him in the face and curse at him. It was time to stand my ground for once, to man up and be brave enough to stare every fear I knew in the face and not falter. I had to hear myself say, “I am going to fight you with everything I have.”
Over the years I learned that he could match me step for step with his weapons of choice, primarily fear, hate and anger. However, he had no response to my growing list of new weapons: compassion, empathy, hope and love.
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So when you hear me say, “there is nothing you can tell me that will shock me,” I mean just that. My passion you ask about? I will tell you I have seen a world full of hate and my dreams still remind me of that dark place. But the thing that keeps the hate at bay is my tiny flame of hope and love. I will fight to keep that flame lit brightly in the darkest hours and I welcome any who are brave enough to stand beside me with their little flames. Remember this: LOVE is the only thing evil fears.