I am old enough to remember a time when you received a telephone call after someone died. And if the person was particularly beloved by you, a visit. There was someone on the other side of that information to look you in the eye, and maybe even hold your hand. That person had already opened themselves up to grief and in the sensitive closeness of that shared knowing, opened up a space for you. And together you learned about how you each loved.
I am now old enough to long for the time when someone had to call, write a letter, or show up to deliver news that would spin you into sorrow. When those were the only options.
A few years ago, while building my live adaptation of Tongues Untied – A Meditation on Tongues – I conducted research at Marlon Riggs’ archives at Stanford University. I was struck by an envelope, empty and crisp with typeface on its front that read, “Death Notice”. Perhaps because it was empty, I held it for a while. I thought of the person who typed the letter, the mail carrier or friend who dropped it off, I thought of the people who were messengers before the message was received. I imagined the number of these envelopes Riggs would have been made to send or receive in the late 1980s at the height of the AIDS pandemic. Maybe on some Tuesdays there were no notices, even though there surely was still dying. On at least that day, no one called to say that a heart stopped beating.
Social media is a poor excuse for a death notice.
Understand that I am not that old (now), but I hope to one day be. And I hope at that time when people learn about my crossing over, at least the people who love me, I hope they learn about it by way of care and not a swipe of happenstance.
We are in a pandemic. And this one, like the others, exposes just how disposable the hunted and vulnerable are under the terror that is white supremacy. The U.S. government is leaving Us to die. Intentionally. This has been done before here. The erasure project has an accomplice in COVID-19, weaponized by those whom have been coming for our lives and land for hundreds of years through systemic oppressions, violences, or simply by letting us alone to be consumed by disease. A bullet by any other name.
Meanwhile, those of us whom scroll and swipe are made to experience death, no matter the cause, as somehow like an hour, common and expected. We sit there alone, with blue light pressing a twisted haze against our faces.
Today is not a day empty of death. It is a Wednesday.
A dear friend, Rosy messaged to share with me that a mutual friend of ours died.
There was no envelope to hold.
I was grateful to her that at least this time, the blue light was accompanied by her one name to my one name and I could cry again.