I keep wondering about him.
All I really know is that he is African-American and was wearing a dark hoodie that night, according to the witnesses.
I wonder how old he is, and what his life was like until now. I wonder if he was born into poverty or if he had enough. I wonder if he felt an early sense of belonging and security, like his needs would be met by someone he could depend on. I wonder if he lived in the same place all his life or in whatever spot a roof was available for tonight. I wonder if he had stable adults in his life, or if one cycled in before he ever really grieved the loss of the one before. Or if the one before was even worth grieving. I wonder if he had a hungry tummy or if he never thought to question that he would be fed. I wonder if he had a parent or caregiver who shot baskets with him at the park, or played ball in the yard, or if it was really even safe to play in his yard.
I wonder how he learned to make sure he had enough power to feel safe in life. I wonder how those in his life who had power carried theirs. I wonder what he learned about his needs, and whether or not they were important, and whether or not he could count on them being met through trusting others. I wonder what he believed about what he deserved and what he was capable of achieving.
I would who hurt him and how he truly feels inside about being someone who is also a hurt-er.
Because it really could go either way.
We don’t have to look very far to know that excess can create entitlement. Children raised with too much believe they deserve what they have and shouldn’t have to live without what they want. They can grow up ready to use others to meet their needs because they have never been forced to trust themselves. They have never had a chance to find out what they are made of.
But not having enough can do it too. Children who grow up without what they need can feel entitled, like they are owed what they never had. They can grow up willing to use others to meet their needs, especially others whom they perceive already have enough. And sometimes they use power to protect the little they feel they can count on.
The bottom line is, whatever his story, he is entitled. He is selfish. He is exploitative and his power trips are deadly.
I know this because he walked up to a car with a gun in his hand and shot my 22-year-old cousin multiple times, ending his life.
My cousin was a college student in his second semester. A family man who shared care of his children with his fiance so that she could work and he could go to school without the children needing to go to daycare. He was the kind of guy that was usually home with his family at a reasonable hour, which is why that night when he wasn’t, they immediately knew something was wrong.
I say all of that knowing that even if he wasn’t a student, a fiance, or an involved father, his life would still have mattered.
But an entitled and incredibly selfish human being with some hand-held power took it all away.
This man is a killer.
I would bet, if all the layers were pulled back and exposed, he is also terrified, insecure, and traumatized.
I would bet he imagines no other plausible life for himself than the one he has.
From a clinical perspective, I am confident that if I could hear his story, the whole vulnerable and honest mess of it, it is likely layered with attachment wounds, trauma, violence, racism, and deep, deep pain.
And now, so are a few more lives.
There are three brothers who shared all kinds of bonds only they will ever understand. In Ryan was hidden memories and moments they can never get back. They have lost the person who could understand them and see their needs without them having to say a word. They lost the one they thought they could count on even when the rest of life fell apart, and now it’s in pieces and he’s not there. They will work hard in life to find friendships but nothing will ever build the kind of intuitive flow that exists between boys who lived it all together.
There is a finance who built a life with Ryan. They dreamed and schemed together about the what else they would build over time. They were madly in love and now she is left with an empty bed and an aching heart, never again to see the sparkle in his eye when he looked at her, never to walk down the aisle and become his wife, never again to watch him play with their children and feel her heart so full of love.
There is a little two-year-old boy out there who keeps asking for his daddy and cannot understand why daddy isn’t coming home. It’s a deep attachment wound, a trauma, caused by violence, and a symptom of a racial brokenness that goes deeper than our society understands or cares to admit. It is pain–deep and gnawing, even for a child.
There is a little baby girl whose daddy adored her. His loving eyes will never again mirror hers. She will grow up without knowing his deep love and unconditional acceptance of her, other than through a few photographs captured before his life was tragically taken from her.
There are grandparents who supported and fought for this boy unconditionally every step of his life, who sacrificed so much to give him the best chance they could, only to have someone else step in and steal all they had worked to provide for him. They are left with deep grief and suffering, knowing they will never again hear his voice, see his face, or give him a hug.
There are so many other cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends who have been forever imprinted by the impression of Ryan on their lives and forever marked by the excruciating pain of his loss.
And there is a mother whose life has always been bonded to her son’s since the moment she knew he was there. Her breath, in and out, brought him what he needed to survive. As he grew, their breath was still connected. She watched it fall in and out of his chest while he slept at night as peaceful child and then heave intensely through his nostrils on the basketball court as a young adult. He heard her breath rush in quick when she thought he was in danger and catch in her throat when she was most proud of him. Their breath has moved in harmony to the music of life but someone has stolen the song, leaving her literally gasping for air.
Think about that.
A pain so deep an emotional expression cannot contain it.
A literally physical pain.
It is unbearable.
All of this makes me wonder when it is going to end.
And how it ever could.
I don’t even know what change would truly require.
But what I do understand is why change is so hard.
I mean, change would mean that someone would have to do something different.
Because what feels right, in the sense of fair and just and equal, is to find him and ruin for him all he has ruined for Ryan.
It doesn’t hardly seem fair his own children, if he has them, get to see him tonight and that his girl gets to fall asleep with him again and again and again.
He doesn’t deserve that.
It really seems to make the most sense.
Except, that it makes us into him.
It makes us into people who are entitled, who cannot live without doing what we feel we deserve to do, who will take power into our own hands to accomplish our own goals even if someone has to die.
And since revenge always escalates, it means we would be creating more and more and more recycled trauma.
That’s how powerful revenge can be. It can take on a life of it’s own. It can multiply. It can become a force no longer under the power of the one who originated it, a spark that becomes engulfing flames and burns up more than it was meant to kill.
It’s scary to think about really. A world in which this kind of Russian Roulette is our only option.
It was scary for Jesus too, I think.
I think he knew there had to be a different way.
I think he knew it enough to stay present, here, while some humans who thought they had a right exercised their corrupt power to torture him beyond comprehension.
The urge to enact the extraction plan had to be overwhelming.
And yet, something more overwhelming kept him here.
I’m not sure what that something was. But I think it had something to do with our desperate need for justice and redemption.
See, revenge can only right one wrong.
And it always creates more wrong that will need to be righted.
But, justice, the Cross kind of justice, can right all the wrongs.
And beyond that, revenge cannot buy anything back. It can only take away from someone else what you perceive they have taken away from you.
But redemption, the Cross kind of redemption, can restore, can bring back. It can reverse.
For Ryan, bullets have been drawn back out and wounds sealed over. Death has been renounced and life has again come. The terror of his final moments has been traded for a peace that passes all understanding.
But, for us, his body is in the ground. Death has claimed a lifetime of unmade memories and unfulfilled hopes and dreams, and the unrelenting terror of loss is near.
The family is left trying to prove to the world the importance of Ryan, looking for a way to show the breadth of his impact and the depth of injustice perpetrated against him.
Make no mistake.
The courage of justice takes more strength than the power of revenge.
And allowing space for the redemption of Jesus is far more bold and brazen than a young man in a hoodie with a gun.
So while a killer waves around death, we will wave around Ryan’s life.
Ryan’s story isn’t going anywhere.
What might look like surrender is actually strength.
Strength that burns brighter and stronger than the flames of revenge.
Strength we will leverage to continue fighting for #JUSTICEFORRYAN.