Today is Father’s Day. It’s also “The Longest Day,” the biggest day for those of us involved in the fight to wipe out Alzheimer’s. It’s called The Longest Day not only because it’s the actual longest day of the year, but once you or someone you know is diagnosed with this disease every day becomes an incredibly long one.
It’s the first time The Longest Day has coincided with Father’s Day, which is important to me as my dad died four years ago from Alzheimer’s. I can’t help but think about him on this day and about the disease that took him from us long before he died from it.
I know for millions today will be a joy-filled day. But I can’t stop thinking of all the families of those who lost their lives and their loved ones in the Charleston tragedy last week. Reverend Clementa Pinckney. Reverend Sharonda Coleman-Singleton. Reverend Daniel Simmons Sr. Myra Thompson. DePayne Middleton Doctor. Susie Jackson. Ethel Lance. Tywanza Sanders. Cynthia Hurd. Fathers, mothers, future parents all taken in a split second.
What is up with us as a nation?
When addressing the attack, our President, a father himself, spoke about the fact that he has had to make too many similar speeches. Other public figures offered their thoughts and prayers. Media outlets focused on the shooter. Who was he? What was he so mad about? Why did he do this? Families are left shocked. No one will fill the spot of the loved one they lost.
They were men and women at bible study. No doubt praying for our country and world’s collective family.
We need it.
Pope Francis released his encyclical letter, “Laudato Si,” this week saying, “Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change.” He wasn’t saying this in response to Charleston, he was saying this in response to all of us and they way we walk through the world in 2015.
The sentiment is 100 percent true. The words apply to Charleston just as much as they apply to climate change, ISIS, Syria, Yemen, Israel and Palestine, the list, sadly, goes on. But while I’m a big believer in prayer, especially collective prayer, I don’t think prayer and our thoughts are going to do it anymore. I think we all have to go back to our own drawing board, as mothers, as fathers, as children. We need to look inside ourselves and take stock. The families of the victims acknowledged their hurt and offered forgiveness. This is a lesson to all of us. Follow their lead. How are we behaving? Are we quick to rage? Are our conversations racist in any way? Do we have hate in our hearts? Do we need to offer forgiveness? Are we spewing hate or judgement that our kids are hearing?
Are we each sufficiently awake in our own lives to see what’s going on in our own homes? Are we surrounded by people who tell us the truth, or encourage us to look the other way even when it comes to our kids?
One can’t help but notice that all of these tragedies seem to share a pattern: The loner, quiet, kept to himself, but showed signs of what was to come. Facebook pages that might have caused concern. No one took the troubling comments seriously. There is a flag here for all of us. Look, listen, take stuff seriously, reach out.
Change starts with us. Peace starts within and goes out from there. So today, be kind to you and then take one step out into your circle and be kind to someone else. Keep moving that outwards. Try the effect of peace on just two others, other than you. We must change.
This latest national tragedy makes me sick to my stomach. As an American, as a mother, as a person.
This is about more than gun control, although I do believe we need stricter laws and better education. This is about mental health and parenting. This is about racism and how deep it runs in this country where so many have fought so hard to eradicate it. This is about our collective family.
Who are we? What values are we espousing? What are we teaching our kids?
Which brings me back to my father. Before Alzheimer’s robbed him of his mind, he used it to fight against racial intolerance. He used it to fight for social justice. He used it to spread the gospel.
He taught my brothers and I that people of different colored skin were not to be feared but embraced because they were the same as us. He taught us that people who were poor deserved our nation’s support and help and compassion. As a daily church goer, he filled our home with people of different faiths to stress understanding and acceptance. He ran for President because he believed we as a collective family could do better and should do better, not just for the few, but for all.
I will miss him on this Father’s Day. I’ll miss his voice, but I know it’s in my head.
On this Father’s Day may we all think about those who are no longer here, may we pay homage to those who lost their lives in the church at Charleston and may we celebrate and love the fathers still amongst us. Encourage them in their roles.
Happy Father’s Day to my father who I’m sure is in heaven. Happy Father’s Day to my brothers, to all my friends who take the role of fatherhood seriously and to the father of our blessed children. May we celebrate them all, encourage them all and support them all — and those who need fathering — on this day and all days. #PassItForward.
[Image via Sargent Shriver Peace Institute]