Thanksgiving kicks off the holiday season for most of my friends in Baltimore and New York. The day after Halloween for me usually means a plethora of phone calls and texts from people wanting to know my plans. They know I don’t cook, entertain, get excited about home-cooked meals or enjoy eating at crowded places. Without them I would probably be spending the day eating cereal in the dark.
I’m not anti-social by a long stretch, it’s just the treatment of Native Americans and our country’s inability to truly honor them have made the holiday feel horrible to me. The more I learn about the Indian Removal Act the sicker I become. So, I always stay out of the way unless I’m feeding the homeless, threatened by my mom or dragged to a function by a relative. But this year, I’m making a point to over-celebrate. I still reject the origin of the holiday out of respect for Native Americans, but 2017 was a bloody mess. This could easily be my last holiday.
I’m fortunate enough to be a writer who travels the world lecturing on the importance of reading and the power of critical thinking. My books have done well, and I get to introduce creative writing to thousands of young people who didn’t see writing as an option before, but I still live in east Baltimore, where murder is a part of the daily conversation. It doesn’t just exist in the high crime areas, and you can’t duck it. We are a relativity small city, and as of this writing, we have already had 308 murders to date — 26 in the last 30 days alone.
The causes could be drugs, gang violence or just random mistakes, but either way, they are all connected to a lack of opportunity created by the same system that has been in place since before the Indian Removal Act. Most of the local media outlets covering these homicides have the luxury of dealing in numbers. They don’t know the victims. They may interact with the families on the day of the tragedy, but then it's on to the next. It’s different for me. I don’t cover murders; however, I do. You see, I’ve been to 20 funerals this year — ten over the summer — and only one victim I knew made it to see 40. Some of these people were dealers, but many of them were family men who made it out of streets and obtained employment just like me. I know their families. I know their children. And I know that trauma from their untimely demises will hang over our city for years to come.
Dealing with violent deaths year in and year out has forced me to change. I embrace everyone with love, even people I had static with in the past, because life is too short. Every time I hit these funerals, and view the bodies, and hug the family, and comfort the children, and watch the songstress before listening to the sermon, I think about what I could have done better. Why are we always here? Did I tell them that I loved them and that they mattered before they passed on? I did in some cases. In times when I didn’t, the pain doubles.
As a result, I’m seizing every opportunity I have to connect with the people in my home town this holiday. I'm giving away turkeys, eating extra plates, hugging every grandmother and beating, or trying to beat, everyone in every game of checkers, spades and Taboo. I'm cheesing on every picture I take, because this might be our last year together. My Instagram account has become a social-media obituary page, to the point where I got sick of posting pictures with #RIP captions. I miss my fallen friends, so I’m vowing to work harder at celebrating the few who are left. And if that means navigating crowded extended family functions, hanging up decorations and hitting every dinner across town, then I’m not going to complain or avoid it this year. I'm going to feel honored to attend, because next year isn’t promised to anyone.