My daughter had called me earlier to ask was I listening to the news. She was in a study group meeting, but had stepped out to talk to me. I had not been listening. My cousin from Trinidad had just arrived to spend Thanksgiving with us, and she and I were with my husband and son in the living room catching up. But my girl sounded upset, so we switched on the news to see what was unfolding. "It's so unfair," she said. Her voice quivered with tears, not just from sorrow, but from righteous anger at what she saw as the injustice of it all. "I can't believe you can just shoot an unarmed kid like that and get away with it. I'm so frustrated and I have no idea what to do. But I don't want to just become cynical and hopeless and accept that this just happens."
I wondered why I wasn't more worked up. I thought, for one thing, that it she was undergoing an experience that was appropriate to college; you're supposed to become politicized in college; it's supposed to open your eyes to the injustices of the world. At the same time, there was in fact little she could do in that moment, and while I wasn't sure that I should be trying to cool the fire burning so hot in her, I thought maybe a more philosophical approach might be helpful just then. "I know how you feel," I told her, "and it's so important to be in touch with that and to look for ways to change things. But you have to remember that as awful as things seem, the polar opposite also exists in the world. There is goodness in equal proportion to this madness, and you have to stay conscious of that and look for that too, or the darkness of all this will consume you."
She paused and considered that. "It does help to see it that way," she decided after a while. "I mean, all this has been happening all along; Black boys have been shot and killed for no good reason long before Michael Brown and Ferguson. At least now there is outrage about it. At least more people are standing up and saying it's just plain wrong." We talked for a while more and then she went back into her study group.
"She's upset?" my son said as I put down the phone. He was in the kitchen brewing some oolong tea for himself and his aunt.
"So upset she was crying," I said.
"They're idealistic in college," my cousin said. "It's right that she's upset."
My son shrugged. "That's the difference between my sister and me," he reflected. "I don't get upset anymore. I'm basically just numb. After Trayvon Martin's killer walked free, I just decided, this is the world we live in. Deal with it." As sad as his words made me, I realized that maybe I got numb after Trayvon Martin, too. Because what my boy said made perfect sense to me. But what my girl said was perfect and right, too.