Illustration by Stacy Reece
Illustration by Stacy Reece

We Cannot NOT

Sometimes, the actions we should take are clear. A North Carolina poet takes a hard look at what happens when we fail to take them.

A poker face will
not keep you in hiding
forever. We are no longer
toddlers playing hide-and-seek,
believing we can hide in plain sight by
placing our hands over eyes, as if you can’t
see me if I can’t see you. I see you. You see me.

The truth about how
we come to know and be
known is self-evident and eternal.

We cannot NOT
communicate. We are all
responsible for our communication.

Everything we say,
everything we don’t say,
everything we do, everything
we don’t do communicates something.

When your neighbor
is profiled, stereotyped,
slandered because he doesn’t
look like you, or she doesn’t love
like you, and you say nothing, your
reticence outs you, your silence is deafening.

When decency calls for
something to be done, nobody
gets to say, “Why are you looking at
me?  I didn’t do anything!” As if not doing
anything when something needs to be done serves as a
not guilty plea. Inactions, like actions, speak louder than words.

Do you honestly
believe that your sins
of omission will not find”
you out? Didn’t you get the
memo? It’s not just the bad things
we do. It’s the good things we don’t.

Complicity masquerading
as innocence is cowardice placing
personal privilege above the needs of those
who are marginalized, disenfranchised, oppressed,
dehumanized, ostracized as “other,” brutalized, erased.

You may say with sincerity,
“I went into fight-flight-freeze,”
and I froze. There is no shame in fear.
We just can’t establish permanent residence there.

We are all familiar
with observing moments
of silence, candlelight vigils,
other solemn events. We simply can’t
co-opt a moment of silence as an alibi for
donning an invisibility cloak every time we feel
uncomfortable. As it is written, “There is a time for
everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…
a time to be silent and a time to speak.”  Isn’t it time for you to speak?

The power of self-definition
is our first and last power. Our very
lives can be taken from us. The power to
define ourselves must be given away to be lost.
Who will define you? Who will define your legacy?

What if one day
one of your own is
out on a broken limb
and no one seems to care?

Can we demonstrate the
courage to say what needs to
be said, to do what needs to be done, to
stand with those who don’t look and love like us?

We Cannot NOT.

Todd Matson is a licensed marriage and family therapist in North Carolina. His poetry has been published in The Journal of Pastoral Care and Counseling; Soul-Lit: A Journal of Spiritual Poetry; and Mindfull Magazine, and his short stories have been published in Ariel Chart International Literary Journal; Faith, Hope and Fiction; and Agape Review. He has also written lyrics for songs recorded by various contemporary Christian music artists, including Brent Lamb, Connie Scott and the Gaither Vocal Band. 


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