I cannot stop visualizing Eric Garner's life being choked out of him. The breath of life is our common language, our common identifier as human beings. His breath is as important as mine or yours or that of the officer, Daniel Pantaleo. I can breathe and so can you -- why can't Eric Garner?
The root word for spirituality means "breath of life." It is the breath of life that feeds our humanity, our values, our sense of connection to all sentient beings, our spiritual pulse and our uniqueness as individuals. Our life needs spirit and our spirit needs breath.
Garner's repeated plea as the chokehold strangled the breath out of him was, "I can't breathe; I can't breathe; I can't breathe; I can't' breathe; I can't breathe..." It is the worst nightmare I could imagine for myself, those I love or any human being.
At best it is an arrogant presumption of power masquerading with godly self-righteousness over the life of a man who may have been a nuisance to shop owners by selling illicit cigarettes on a sidewalk. At worst it is an intentional act to kill another human being driven by rage, illness or something yet to be discovered.
"I can't breathe" is now in our lexicon as being synonymous with wanton brutality. His death may be but the latest in a series of killings of young men of color, but Eric Garner's death has ignited an American mosaic of a movement. For those who have asked for far too many years, "How long do these killings of unarmed men of color have to continue?" The protesters of every race and culture say, "No more."
We're still waiting for the leaders to emerge who will bring the protesters, the police and the myriad of communities that are the United States together with compassion and clarity about how to ensure that the killing of young men in our streets comes to an end and that the breath of life of every person is sacred ground.
Instead of sitting around and waiting, we say, "I will breathe; you will breathe." Our breath of life honors Eric Garner when we refuse to believe that any person should ever have their breath choked out them; when our humanity is measured by how we value the breath and life of every person, and when with compassion and clarity the hard work of rebuilding trust between the police and ordinary citizens is understood as vital to the health of our communities and country.
In this season of Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Christmas, with their common themes of celebrating life and gift-giving, it is ironic that the gift of a life has been choked out of existence. If the peace of the season is about seeking the well-being of all, then that gift is ours to offer and seek with new mindfulness.
We are each those leaders we wait for. Visualizing Eric Garner's pleas of "I can't breathe" as the chokehold expunged life from him is real. Equally real is the fact that you can breathe and I can breathe. What will you and I do with that breath of life to banish the possibility of any other person ever having to utter Eric Garner's plea?