I have been a father for over eight years, and fatherhood has been a source of great joy for me. It has also been a source of some of the deepest grief as we buried our oldest five years ago. One of my deepest fears was met in that moment. I couldn’t protect her from her illness. I couldn’t protect her from death.
In recent years, I have had other fears awakened. What if I can’t protect myself? What if in quick and tragic seconds, my life is taken, leaving my babies with the stinging, throbbing sense of grief? With trauma. With questions.
As I woke up this past Father’s Day, these questions were fresh on my mind. A little less than a year ago, Philando Castile’s life was taken. Another life reduced to a social media hashtag. Another senseless loss. And as the officer responsible for his death was found not guilty, our community was again frustrated with the criminal justice system.
Sadly, that disappointment has become sort of an expectation: “Of course they found him not guilty.” And while I was grieved afresh, feeling the sting of the wound that hasn’t healed, my heart was heavy for that little girl that was left behind. I wondered how she felt.
The tragic events of that day left another child with a nagging sense of grief and loss that her little mind and body will feel, but will not be able to articulate. She didn’t just hear news of it. She saw the flash of the officer’s pistol. Smelled the smells. Heard the noise. Heard the weeping. Pleaded with her mom to quit cursing so that she wouldn’t get shot too. She lamented in the most painful of ironies, “I wish this town was safer…I don’t want it to be like this anymore,” as a man sworn to protect her had just deepened her sense of fear and vulnerability.
It’s a scene that she will likely never forget. Sometimes, when my five-year-old reads a book with something as silly as bugs in it at bedtime, she will wake up in the middle of the night having nightmares about bugs. I wonder if the events of that day still haunt that little girl.
I am a daddy to little girls. I know the joy on my daughters’ faces when I pull into the driveway. I know the sadness they feel when they ask my wife in the middle of the day, “Where is daddy? When is he coming home?”
Philando was a man she was increasingly growing to love and respect. What did this little girl feel on this Father’s Day without the presence of Philando Castile, a present male figure in her life?
I wish I lived in a world where I didn’t have to ask that question. I weep and cry out in anguish to the Lord, pleading with him to heal it all now. I grieve and feel a renewed drive to work, fight, preach, and pray in ways that seek to root out the larger systems of hatred, prejudice, and injustice that creates the context for the senseless loss of life.
But this weekend, I wept for that little girl who I am sure would have loved to express her love for Philando. I wept for a little girl who likely just wishes that she could have made it home with her whole family that fatal evening.
We have work to do. We have a long, arduous fight against the dark systems of injustice and oppression that has left us with questions and grief. But as we fight, I am reminded to not forget the little faces, names, and stories whose pain cannot be quantified by a hashtag, or healed by the toppling of an unjust system.
We don’t just weep over, or fight against the system. We lament with and fight for the families. And we pray that this promise from God’s Word will increasingly give comfort and heal: “Father of the fatherless and protector of the widows is God in his holy habitation” (Psalm 68:5).
Father, give comfort and hope. Let your kingdom come and your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. And come, Lord Jesus. Please, come quickly.