I’m sitting in a cafe after a long day of retail, drinking a beer and reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, pouring over passages that ring truth in me despite my experience as a Caucasian female in her early thirties. The passages I read bring me to tears.
My reading is disrupted by loud conversation at a table adjacent to mine. A table of three white people in their mid to late forties. The laughter of three faded into a question by one, “If you knew you were going to die in a year, how would you change your life?” The lady who asked looked each person in the eye. Her table mates got quiet. Exchanged startled glances. Sipped more red wine.
“Would we be sick within that year?” the other female’s voice piped in.
The asker took on a serious tone, “No you would not. You just know you will die in one year. December 22, 2017.”
“But today is the 22nd and almost over,” came the timid response.
“Okay, the 23rd. Don’t get hung up on the details.” The asker put her wine down, stared the quiet man down.
“I don’t know,” he said to break the silence.
“That’s fine. That’s okay,” the asker began to laugh. “I don’t know either.”
It felt alien, being pulled from a book written by a black man who had grown up in Baltimore talking about his body. The fear of his body. How a kid could pull out a piece and have the power to turn him into a memory. How this fear is a constant. A constant tied to a Dream of white picket fences and pot roasts, a Dream where boys don’t have to worry about their bodies. His life: survival.
To be jarred from these words, this experience, to the wine soaked words of folks’ conjectures about death as idea, something they cannot even fathom. Something they do not need to accept as a part of daily existence. It feels wrong. Distant. American in its blatant disconnect and disregard.