What Makes Us Human

I was up late last night following up different threads of conversation on my post yesterday about Trayvon Martin. I had a lot of different perspectives coming at me, and I was doing my best to make sense of each opinion, each passionate statement, each frustrated comment. It meant being up way past my normal bed time, but it was worth it.

In the middle of it all, around 12:10, my son, Jonathan, woke up crying.

At first I tried to ignore it. He’s the cuddler in the family, so if he’s awake and sleepy, he wants someone, somewhere, to hold him in their arms and rock him off to Dreamland. This usually means a solid 20 minutes in his room, in this little blue glider, rocking back and forth while patting him on the back or rubbing his ears. When you, as an adult, are on the verge of psychotic break from lack of sleep, spending an extra 20 minutes awake is not a pleasant thought. Sounds harsh, but it’s true. So I just kept on typing.

But after about a minute, the cry changed. It wasn’t the usual low, barely awake kind of cry that he makes when he wakes up too early; it was higher-pitched and panicky, as if he were suddenly aware of something being wrong around him. I immediately got up and went into his room.

His covers were thrown in two directions, and his little legs were draped strangely off the edge of the bed. Jon was sitting up, his hands in front of his mouth as if frightened, and when he saw me he reached up and said, “Hold me.”

I did.

We sat down in the glider and I began the back and forth motion that he finds so comforting. He put his head on my shoulder and nestled his chin into my neck so that his small, rhythmic breaths tickled me on each exhale. His hands found their way to my biceps and rested there. And his heart, beating rapidly at first but slowing down with each glide forward and back, soon fell into rhythm with mine.

Just me and him and the nighttime world.

Holding him, I realized that he was my son and I loved him dearly. You carry those thoughts around with you on a daily basis – you know them like you know the sun rises and sets – but much like a sunrise, you don’t always stop to appreciate the true beauty contained therein. Enclosed in the darkness I felt strangely protected, strangely at peace with Jon and myself and the future. And for some reason, in that moment of peace, I began to think about Trayvon Martin again.

I began to imagine the pain of losing my son before he could grow into a man. The sorrow of seeing a life full of promise cut short. I know that some have speculated about Trayvon’s character – heck I have had my questions – but holding my son last night, I realized as a father, it wouldn’t matter to me if my son were acting a punk or not. Rocking there with Jonathan I instantly knew that I would, for better or worse, always see my son as the tiny, soft, fuzzy-headed boy asleep in my arms.

And I knew that Trayvon’s parents are probably the same way.

I think we forget things like that quite often. We see people as they currently are and believe that the present iteration is all they’ve ever been. It makes things easier for us, I suppose, if we don’t have to think about politicians or criminals or actors or sports figures or our coworkers as anything more than what we know them to be right now. It makes it easier to pass judgment, to form an opinion, to live our own lives, if the people that surround us everyday are two-dimensional characters.

Heck, one need only look at some Patch comment threads to see that truth come to life.

But occasionally we are reminded that we are not surrounded by mere characters; we are, in fact, surrounded by human beings who live and move and breathe and have a past just like we do. And many of those beings have been profoundly broken, or profoundly loved; many of them have dreams that have been thwarted or hopes that have been dashed; some of them wear hoodies and some of them are nervous neighborhood watch captains scared out of their minds.

This is what makes us human.

But whatever else we can say about them, we can say for sure that once upon a time they were small and innocent just like we were, just like our kids are. And somewhere, someone will weep when they are gone. Somewhere, someone will not see the same person we see lying in the casket; somewhere, someone will see their tiny child, their special little someone, the love of their lives – gone from their arms.

I think that’s what Trayvon Martin’s family is experiencing: not just the death of their 17 year-old son, but the death of that tiny little baby, innocent in their arms. Maybe that’s why they keep showing his picture as a younger boy – because that’s what they keep seeing.

I put my son down after a solid ten minutes of rocking last night, and as I did I kissed his cheek; the tear that fell on his little face glistened from his nightlight. Jon smiled and wiped the tear away, but not the kiss. Then he rolled over and pulled up his covers, which I so carefully tucked in around him. I knelt there for a minute longer, just staring at him, wondering what he will become, what he’ll be like, who he’ll choose to be as he makes his way through this big, bad world. The tears flowed freely.

When I stood up, I kissed him again and then headed to the door. Stopping there to look at him just one more time, I whispered “I love you” from the deepest part of myself and heard him sigh in response.

2 thoughts on “What Makes Us Human

  1. Its not fair for you to make me cry at work, the middle schoolers will see me as soft, lol great, great, great article. probably the most poignant post I have read about the perspective of this case that has been written to date anywhere. I think you’re dead on the mark. We forget so often that everyone is someone’s child. I see over 1200 students everyday, most of their names I do not know, but still for whatever reason, as a “teacher” I feel something for each and every one of them, even the ones I do know that I have in ISS quite often. maybe its the Youth Pastor part of me bleeding over, or the father part of me coming out, whatever it is, I cannot view these students in vacuum. They do not exist in the one moment of time that I see them. They go home, they live lives, they grow up(God willing), and they contribute in some way to their pocket of the world, effecting numerous people along the way. The same is true for my son. The same is still true for Trayvon, this case will effect someone, besides the casual media junkie. His family, neighborhood, and community will be forever changed. So will the life of George Zimmerman. Anyways, before I get rolling and hijack your post, let me say again, fantastic job, extremely thought provoking and heart touching.


    1. Thanks, Brian. My editor over at the Patch says that for posts like this I should issue a “tissue alert.” But I’m never sure when those will be needed, so I guess folks just have to read at their own risk.


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