08 // Fluency & Silence

How does work ethic influence legacy, if we know that we are more than what we make?

The untimely and visceral death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianni has removed most of my appetite for the past week. It was devastating personally, and

This is the first time I have had the energy to write, and even now, it feels insufficient. The helicopter he was in, went down 15 minutes from where I live in LA, which aside from being horrifying, has sobered me in ways I am still struggling to interpret.

After the tears and the anger, followed by more of both, I have tried to wrestle with two things: how time and legacy intertwine, and the dense and overwhelming feeling of corporate grief that I feel connected too. I was in Target, buying an oversized Epsom Salt bag, and a woman, adorned in all purple was pushing her cart slowly, talking to a friend. She had found a way to match every shade of purple in our natural world, together. I crashed into a stack of all-natural disinfectant wipes due to how substantial her drip was. She was talking on the phone, and as I picked up the supplies I had spilled and said:

You know, I heard about the Kobe thing and it was so tragic girl.. Then I thought, my son, and how he was flying is somewhere in the air to that same day. I dunno girl.

I dunno either.

For the fam

Frederick Douglass was the most popular man in America at the turn of the century 19th century. He had to find a balance between silence, environment, responsibility, and the burden of purpose he was faced with, complex and otherworldly for the time he occupied. Perhaps, that tension is best explained through a letter he wrote to the slave owner who was refusing to let him free his sisters from their captivity:

I will now bring this letter to a close, you shall hear from me again unless you let me hear from you. I intend to make use of you as a weapon with which to assail the system of slavery—as a means of concentrating public attention on the system, and deepening their horror of trafficking in the souls and bodies of men. I shall make use of you as a means of exposing the character of the American church and clergy—and as a means of bringing this guilty nation with yourself to repentance. In doing this I entertain no malice towards you personally. There is no roof under which you would be more safe than mine, and there is nothing in my house which you might need for your comfort, which I would not readily grant. Indeed, I should esteem it a privilege, to set you an example as to how mankind ought to treat each other.

I am your fellow man, but not your slave.

To read it almost two hundred years in the future, it leaps off the page. But this is a fairly commonplace letter in the context Douglass’ of the full canon of his work. He was prolific and poignant in all his correspondence. It was his default to lead with a flourish of the pen that made him legendary and formidable. But here, he simply wanted his sisters to be free. So he did what he knew how to do, in the best way he knew how with all of the leverage he possessed.

Both Kobe and Frederick were known for their voracious production and work ethic, in the context of what brought them to the top of their chosen vocations. ‘Profession’ is too simple a word to describe the weight with which they attacked their easels. To say it was the most important is to, unintentionally or otherwise, reduce people to what our choice of remembrance feels like. Memory, much like pain, is shared, which makes for a unique kind of discomfort and special kind of pride.

But that's exactly where the paradox is found. What becomes so fascinating about work ethic is how far apart it can set you, sometimes, for reasons that aren't necessarily the intention; by the very nature of how it compounds, what appears average is in fact not, and is easily discounted. It also can quickly become the full idea of a legacy, instead of an input that led to it. In Derek Jeter's tribute, he lays it bare an:

Kobe just loved being a dad.

And when it comes to his legacy, I really hope we’re able to take the time to remember that as an essential part of it.

The Black Mamba was a Black Dad.

The weight and compounding nature of grief that humbles and challenges us is inescapable. We engage with loss across different spectrums, times, and degrees. But no one escapes it. We need time that we say we do not have. To yell. To stare silently in disbelief. To log off and have no intention of returning. To, possibly mourn in whatever way allows for the most space.

That is, most often, what is denied a people who so desperately need space to process. Exhaling is always a taxable behavior when a breath is a luxury. If there is a time for everything under the sun, then we deserve time for what we are feeling. It wasn’t just that we were grieved over Kobe. We simultaneously had to publicly grapple with finiteness on this side of life in a way that was unspeakable and excruciating.

The deeper irony is the surprise that Kobe was as close to. That has more to do with what how we cover men who play, juxtaposed to women who play. To inquire ceaselessly of Serena’s journey through motherhood, but to not interrogate Kobe’s journey of fatherhood until posthumously, is a disservice that is the media environment and culture we occupy. We get to decide how we engage with the many dimensions of the figures who we say we hold dear. They deserve, as everyone, to be human on this side of life, even if their physical acts routinely defied what we deemed as possible. Love does that too, and we find unique ways to take that for granted too.

That is perhaps my hope for this month of futures, presents, and remembrances. That, throughout all the intensive marketing of black faces, commingled tales of achievement and survival, for all the virtue-signaling that will be rampant, maybe there could be other opportunities to have richer conversations that center everything we are, without the expense of minimizing us