Encounters with Knives…
When my favorite number one firstborn grandson was a senior in high school, he often would sleep over and crash at my house when he was past curfew, or his mother got on his nerves. I remember those late nights as some of our best times together. Sometimes we would have snacks, watch movies, do homework together and just hang out. All of my five grandchildren are my favorites. That designation rotates accordingly. Grandson number 2, grandchild # 3 is most often my favorite as I see him the most and at age nine, I am currently his best friend he says because I generally take time to listen to him and rarely yell.
As number one was getting ready for school one morning… a bright shiny brass colored switch blade lethal looking kind of knife dropped out of his backpack, I picked it up and quietly put it under my bed. I gave him five dollars, packed a lunch and off he went with scant chance of getting to school on time, but it would be close to the bell ringing and he wouldn’t miss his first period.
He agreed to text me or face time me as I preferred when he arrived at his destination. He had a route of taking the Metro (we all lived in DC at the time,) My apartment was just above the Fort Totten Metro Station where the red, green and yellow line all crossed. He occasionally took a connecting bus and when it was working and tires OK, his bike allowed him to get around town.
He is 22 now and lives officially in Philly, an out of work dancer, on leave from sophomore semester from the University of the Arts as his temperament for online dance education and mounting angst with the world leaves him often frayed at his wits end. He wonders daily would he be better off elsewhere doing something else rarely able to finish tasks without the routine of school or work pulling him along. We often cook together by Face Time and have a lot of fun.
While all black parents and now even most white parents know about the “talk” we have with our sons in particular about how the world doesn’t quite see them as we do. I would like to humbly offer the knife version of the talk coming from his grandmother and how it can be a never-ending oft repeated conversation and how it can go sideways in a moment’s notice. Bearing in mind the telling of this tale publicly has everything to do with a young Mr. Wallace from Philadelphia who is dead. My heart aches for him but mostly for his parents and the grandmas I have in mind.
Imagine the talk, when the elder says… blah blah blah and the younger one listens or not and maybe says nothing or not and then they leave. You hold your breath and pray until they return or till you see them the next time. You pray and put them under the divine white light of protection.
Grandmas have a special place of honor or detachment as we love from a distance as we try to support their parents first and feel like we stand in the gap and want to help but not do too much.
If our children just one generation has made it, sane and still alive; we feel like we have a sense of entitlement and maybe even a modicum of success; so maybe they will listen to us and know we know something, and can pass it on even though we do not live in their world as they often point out.
Well you see it went like this…
When he looked for his weapon of protection at some point later in the day, perhaps on the Metro, at school on later at home and it was gone missing, he called and said “Grandma, do you know where my knife is? I said no quite unconvincingly. He said Grandma tell the truth giving me the truth lecture I often give to them that he can handle the truth. I acquiesced and said I freaked out and took it and would not be returning it and why did he need a knife anyway and even if he did, I and others surrounded him with the blood of Jesus, Divine protection and Love and no weapon formed against him would prosper and any black man in America does not need a knife whether it’s the police finding it with him, a drug crazed associate or stranger or even a friend in the midst of an argument and in a moment’s notice.
He said that I was in denial and clearly, I didn’t understand what his life was like…and that I certainly didn’t understand that in order to feel safe, under siege all the time, he felt better prepared for what might happen with a weapon. “How can I protect myself or my family against folks out there unless I have something. I can’t fight them off with my bare hands. I am a target out there; I am a dancer. I’m a light skinned pretty boy with ballet shoes in my bag, this knife is all I’ve got…
Flash forward… several years; it’s early Spring, He was here in DC heading back to college with his girlfriend after what we all thought was a sort of normal Spring break in March 2020, heading back to Philly by bus. I am not making this up, I was driving them to the Greyhound bus at Union Station. He was not in a good mood for various reasons that are so not important now, but as Providence would have it, after leaving the car, another larger more expensive knife fell, jumped or leaped from his backpack and lay on the floor of my car as he left and I walked in with him to purchase the bus ticket and wish him well on his way. I did not see this knife until I returned to my car and again vowed not to return it and I was pretty sure I would lie or be circumspect about its exact location should he ask when discovering it was no longer with his belongings.
A few days later, I did receive the expected call regarding the location of the knife. Had I seen it, was it in my car? I responded accordingly as if I had dodged a bullet and he was angry, about it but decided not to pursue the line of conversation with me any further.
A few weeks later, when second semester of the sophomore year went from bad to worst; pandemic raging, four to six hours of dance and routine generally disrupted and life as he knew it ground to a halt. I received a panicked call from the girlfriend that he was distraught, out in the narrow one-way Philadelphia street unable to sleep and unable to come in the house or to settle himself down. She was not sure what to do, She worried about the neighbors and she felt hesitant to call the police and she knew he would listen to me and passed the cell phone to his ear so I would be in yelling distance and I instructed him to go in the house NOW; have a cup of sleepy time tea and we would chat more later in the day about Plan B, C, and D, and so grateful the knife was in an undisclosed location away from him.
The next day in the late afternoon, we talked, or at least I mostly talked and he pretended to listen, he asked about his knife and I said my peace about safety, mental health, the police and then I threw in the dreaded words about prayer, worry, depression, getting some help and that my disdain of violence and relying on weapons mounted to fear, and frustration and accidents we couldn’t recover from. He mentioned I should be glad it wasn’t a gun, and that he was not a violent person and that I reminded him of his dearest friend who had a gun for protection and in an instant of accidental madness took his own life in his grandmother’s back yard. We recounted all of his friends and acquaintances shot, maimed, or injured in accidents, drivebys; fights and others who were no longer here. So many gone in such a young life in such a short time. He allowed that he was not depressed, but he did have despair from time to time and that I should not worry he would be all right.
Weeks later he was emboldened for justice with his brief arrest for protesting in Philly streets for George and all the others; he would come home for a while but felt the urge to return to Philly and stay close to school and the action of a new life calling instead of retreating home.
The other day he found a knife on the Metro abandoned by someone and he let me know it was a sign and it was all right that I wouldn’t give him his other one back. He was working with his dad, earning a bit at a time and learning to have his own business and he would return to Philly when the protests died down after the election next week and try his best to get a job and get back to school as soon as he didn’t have to go-online. Remote learning was not working for him, nor his brother. I was not to worry! Keep praying! Keep singing! Every praise is to Our God! He would make me proud! I simply just didn’t understand. Can I have both Faith and a mind to take action? His sister and mother knew I had my concerns; but at least they saw his side more than me that he didn’t feel safe without a weapon. All prayers to grandmas everywhere. Forgive us Mr. Wallace! Your life was not in vain. I promise we won’t ever rest! We are promised Peace beyond all understanding!
His mother called to him
Tried to stop him from running out into the Philadelphia streets
With a knife in his hand
The police officer’s mother didn’t plan for her son to shoot anyone ever.
Grandmas know these things