I’ve been trying to figure out how I’m “supposed” to feel over the past 24 hours. I spent the day away from my office in Hyde Park in response to a credible threat of “gun violence” reported to the University of Chicago by the FBI.
As it turned out, the person posting the threat online was a student at the University of Illinois in Chicago. The threat was a response to the recent horrific shooting of a young African American man by a Chicago police officer. The officer shot the young man 16 times, and this was captured on video; the video was released to the public recently, in conjunction with a murder charge against the officer.
One of the specifics of the student’s threat was to kill “white male students and/or staff”. Which meant, had I gone to work, I would have been a prime target, had the threat been real and gone unnoticed. There is a reasonable chance I would have been walking across campus at the 10am time given.
One emotion I don’t feel is anger. I keep searching my mind for such feelings toward someone who, knowing nothing about me, would put me in a category based on nothing by my gender and skin color, then decide that it might be reasonable to kill me. Sorry, it’s just not there.
What I primarily feel is sadness. Sadness for Laquan McDonald’s family for his unnecessary death; sadness for the violence in my city that sometimes seems unending; sadness for the fear this all generates for decent people; and even sadness for the young man who felt compelled to post, just for a moment, his rage at the world that seems stacked against him. Realizing, that for his anguished moment of misplaced judgement, he now faces the possibility of 5 years in jail – and the agony his mother must feel for him. May fate spare me anything similar.
One of the joys of working at the University of Chicago as a physician is all the interesting people from every imaginable background that I am privileged to meet, work with, care for, and get to know. Mostly, I’m thankful to be taking care of people, often with deadly diseases, too often near the end of their lives. Last week, I spent much of my Thanksgiving holiday talking with people in pain and distress about the rapidly approach end of their lives. All of which made me thankful for the opportunity to do so and still be healthy enough to help.
I spent the unexpected day away from work with my family, a rare weekday to enjoy them. I helped the kids with their schoolwork (they are in a unique Chicago school program which has them working “virtually” many days), took them to their gymnastics practice, and took a walk through our south side neighborhood. My 12-year old son asked me why I didn’t go to work, and I tried my best to explain honestly what was happening. He asked some appropriate questions, which I answered, again as honestly as possible. He accepted this, openly, and moved on with life. It seemed surreal – to have an extra day enjoying time with my kids as a consequence of other, slightly older kids enduring life’s awfulness, mostly due a societal inability to deal with differences between people due to the color of their skin. All of this turned my sadness into a sort of variegated melancholy – an amalgam of sadness about the world we live in, satisfaction in keeping the violent ugliness out of my kids’ lives a little longer, and the difficult realization that I don’t really know how to control either one.