What Kind of April Fools are We? —by Jinny Batterson
I hadn’t planned to write a blog post today. Then current events intervened in the form of a nationally televised shooting incident at a Greyhound bus station near where I used to live in Richmond, Virginia.
Getting coverage on the national news these days is more often a cause for dread than for celebration. Both local and national coverage of the bus station incident mention the fear experienced by those closest to the tragedy, along with assurances by local and state officials that everything possible will be done to prevent a recurrence. Later today I’ll phone some of my Richmond friends to gauge their reactions. I’ll hope that area faith communities will respond—Richmond’s current mayor is also an ordained minister.
No one may ever know the entire “why” of the shootings, in which a Virginia State Trooper on a training exercise was fatally wounded after a brief conversation with a male subject near the bus station’s entrance. The subject, whose identity was not yet public pending notification of next of kin, was later fatally shot by other responding officers. Those interviewed about the slain officer mention his joy in life and his eagerness to be of service. What is known is that the state trooper, Chad Dermyer, was a police officer who had previously served in the U.S. Marines. Officer Dermyer did not fire the first shot. His death leaves a widow and two young orphans. Officer Dermyer took what some might consider a foolish risk—on this training exercise, he chose not to wear a bullet-proof vest under his plain clothes.
My deepest condolences to Officer Dermyer’s family and loved ones. I applaud his service, while immensely thankful that I’m not called on to take the sorts of risks he encountered. Yet I’m reminded of many lesser “foolish risks” I’ve taken: welcoming strangers into my home; taking off-the-beaten-track travels, both domestically and overseas; meeting folks who were “different” who later turned into valued friends. In the long run, isn’t it a larger risk for us to become overly risk-averse, to try to wall ourselves off from the “other”?
I’ve long kept a file of short excerpts of longer works that especially moved me. One is by writer and activist Lorraine Hansberry, from the conclusion of her 1965 play, “The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window.” Sidney is an idealistic journalist in New York City’s Greenwich Village. By the play’s end, his wife is considering leaving him, his sister-in-law has just committed suicide in the apartment upstairs, and the reform political candidate whose campaign sign Sidney has in his window has just explained to Sidney that he’s been bought by special interests. The victorious candidate taunts Sidney as a fool. Sidney responds:
“[I am] A fool who believes that death is waste and love is sweet and that the earth turns and men change every day and that rivers run and that people wanna be better than they are and that flowers smell good and that I hurt terribly today, and that hurt is desperation and desperation is—energy and energy can move things…”
Many years after Ms. Hansberry’s play, the question of what kind of fools we want to be is more relevant than ever. May we be wise fools, this April and beyond.