Our bodies spun / On swivels of bone & faith, / Through a lyric slipknot

Of joy, & we knew we were / Beautiful & dangerous.

Grief is messy, complicated, unpredictable because people are messy, complicated, unpredictable. The narrative of our lives is not something over which we have total control, and never is that more true than when we die.

And yet in an era of real-time, distributed, public grief — which is not quite the same as collective mourning, though they are related — we tend to demand perfection, neatness, reason.

This person was not perfect, how dare you eulogize them. Or, how dare you speak ill of the dead; think of their families! Or, who are you to be sad? Or, who are you to be angry? Or, how dare you be one thing and not the other!

But this is not how grief works. This is not how people process trauma. You do not, in the moment when you are hurt, immediately and necessarily engage in the intellectual exercise of measuring your pain against some global scale of injustice. You do not, when you have been hurt and are feeling hurt afresh, consider all the reasons your experience might be of no moment to someone else.

There are many people doing great harm right now, every day — and they are praised and hailed and cheered and re-elected. Their dinner parties are the hottest ticket in town. Folks clamour for their approval. There is no shortage of employees and partners happy to take their money and sit on their boards.

And there are many people trying to undo those harms, build resilience into the systems crumbling under the weight of those harms. They’re told to wait their turn, to be more accommodating, to stop making people so uncomfortable. They’re told they’re too young to have an opinion or too old to be taken seriously.

And there are many more people in between, both enabling and preventing. We are the ones enabling and preventing. We demand that people be perfect victims or cartoon villains because the possibility of more complicated narratives is the possibility of our own complicity.

There is no right way to mourn and there is no righteousness in demanding in the aftermath of death and public tragedy that people suddenly do what we individually and collectively failed to do all the years prior.

We rarely hold each other accountable when we are alive. We rarely give people their flowers while they can still smell them. That is something we can still change. There is still time for that.


Dribble, drive to the inside,
& glide like a sparrow hawk.
Lay ups. Fast breaks.
We had moves we didn’t know
We had. Our bodies spun
On swivels of bone & faith,
Through a lyric slipknot
Of joy, & we knew we were
Beautiful & dangerous.

— from Slam, Dunk, & Hook by Yusef Komunyakaa