Friday, February 8, 2008

A Collective Grief

Today there is a collective grief that has covered this small Missouri town like a gray cloud.

Yesterday, I sat like the rest of my community in utter shock when the normal Thursday night television was interrupted with a special report. There was a disturbance at City Hall and a mass shooting in an otherwise boring meeting. It turned out we quasi knew the shooter, he an older alum of my husband's alma mater. He was a fellow church member with my cousin. I remember his gracious greeting to me when we first moved to Kirkwood and encountered him at church. He was affiable, approachable, and always smiling.

I sat in utter disbelief as the events of the evening were rattled off and then the unbelievable utterance of a name we knew. We wondered if it was the same Cookie Thornton and it was then confirmed when a fellow Kirkwoodian called us and told me it was the same man I met at church. My husband and I were just dumbfounded. Then the media displayed his picture and it was confirmed. We sat there and listened alternately to the media reports and the looming helicopters, our neighborhood in the vicinity of downtown.

Today I woke up and couldn't shake what happened. I didn't live in the same neighborhood and he hadn't been in our home, but I was shaken because of the grieving people left behind. I am appalled at his shooting and killing so many people, I grieve for those families and share in the collective shock of my new community. Yet today, I was grieving for his family who was having their lives plastered all over the media and race thrown into to make the news reports more titalitating. So I made a decision.

I went to the Meacham Park Emergency Meeting called by the community organizers. I only moved to Kirkwood in August so before some previous negative reports, knew nothing of this quaint, historic, African American community. I felt compelled to share in the collective grief. I had just driven through the neighborhood a week before in search of the YWCA. I found well kept homes, manicured lawns, quiet streets, not the demonized area portrayed in the local media.

The room in the historic school house was filled with clergy, citizens, and media, black and white, young and old, all trying to make sense of something that was without sense. There was outrage at the racial spin being put on it. Understandably there was outrage at the history of division in Kirkwood and Meacham Park and the unfair treatment of the neigborhood's children. I felt the pain. I felt the mistreatment that they felt that went back for generations. I felt the anger at the cheating of black businesses of property that was unfairly annexed to make way for Target, Wal*Mart, and Lowes. I felt the disenfranchisement and disconnect with the other side of the tracks that was the final straw for Cookie. I felt the collective pain and it compelled me to be there with my daughters.

Finally, the collective grief is compelling me to attend the community prayer vigil tonight. The people at the emergency meeting will also be there to join together in unison to raise one voice of sympathy to all that lost lives. We never understand what drives someone to do this, but we all understand that we are all human, let us now embrace each other as humans...and heal.

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