“If We Must Die”
If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! We must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!
–Claude McKay 1919
I recently visited a church last Sunday, and the pastor compelled us to think about our death. Not to invoke a deterministic notion of lamentation, but rather to force us to think about the trivialities in our lives. In his words, he asked, “What if your last fight, was your last fight?” In essence, if you were to be gone tomorrow, would you be happy with the decisions you made today? Would that small tiff with your friend special-friend have been worth the honor of the final moments of your life? I left this sermon realizing that thinking about death can be an empowering experience. If considered delicately, it can provide clarity and direction, reminding us of what we should be valuing, and what battles we should be fighting.
I think it’s important to remember the sacredness of our lives and the gravity of the battles we choose to fight, especially in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s unjust death. This was a youth who not only died unfairly, but died fighting, spending the last moments of his life physically struggling against a man’s palpable prejudice. Our outrage has coalesced into a greater fight, one that is bigger than the many trivial spats we allow ourselves to become immersed within on a daily basis. Trayvon’s death should not have been a tool for our country to remember some of its most abhorrent atrocities, but nevertheless we can honor Trayvon’s death by remembering that it showed us the importance of what we fight for within our lives, and the greater battles we must fight against the injustices of the world, and for all the Black youth out there who have suffered the same fate as Trayvon.
Death agitates the subtle nuances of our lives, but it brings clarity, reminding us of the truly important battles. Let’s continue to fight for Trayvon.