Often it’s death that gives renewed clarity, focus, and purpose to life. This is especially true as I look back on 2014, as the departure from this life of several treasured souls has given cause for deep reflection.

Robin Williams, for example, was considered larger than life itself! His comedic genius was of a rarefied sort, and his deep well of energy and enthusiasm allowed him to entertain on stage or screen at a sometime dizzying, and all-consuming level. His zeal to make others laugh seemed to communicate a boundless supply of inner joy and zest for life that would leave me, and I’m sure many others, simply amazed. Yet, it was a mask. That deep well of energy and enthusiasm also contained, unfortunately, an unending supply of depression and unhappiness that eventually became too much for him to bear.

Like others before and some people even today, Robin Williams shared a view of life so poignantly, yet sadly espoused by the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer: “life is an endless pain with a painful end.” The man who for me, since I was a little child, epitomized a child-like embrace of life, full of laughter and wonder, often felt only sorrow and sadness throughout his sojourn here.

His passing brought home to me the biblical admonition to “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Among other things, implicit in this law is bringing unconditional light and love to those around us, taking the time to understand one another deeply. In doing so, we are more apt to be an able and effective listening ear and shoulder to lean on for those suffering with painful, internal darkness. It’s true that some emotional pains are so deep and profound that medical intervention may also be necessary, but it’s also been proven again and again that nothing can touch a human heart like the loving, understanding embrace of another human heart.

The passing of another this year highlights that not only can the human heart harbor a lonely, painful inner darkness, but also a sordid and abhorrent darkness that’s hard to fathom. Little Haiwayi Robinson’s body was found after an exhaustive two-day search that consumed not only the panicked and shocked minds of the citizens of Prichard and Mobile County, but those of the state and nation. Hoping for the best, our worst fears and apprehensions were confirmed upon the discovery of her body, cruelly discarded on a blighted roadside. Whose heart could be so dementedly dark? It seems her father’s.

He sits in jail now accused of extinguishing her life in a way that, as a father myself, I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around. Haiwayi’s death brings home the importance of protecting the most vulnerable among us — the little ones who are so innately trusting, forgiving and loving.
Their little minds incapable of understanding the vicious darkness that can exist in some grown-ups.

In 2015, Haiwayi Robinson’s hurtful absence serves as a motivator to be more aware and guarded when it comes to my child and other children who have a consistent presence in my life. Just as important, to support causes and agencies like the local Child Advocacy Center whose mission is to emotionally heal, care for, and seek justice for those little ones whose innocence has been violated.

16-year-old Raven Hamilton was shot and killed in December.

16-year-old Raven Hamilton was shot and killed in December.

Standing amongst mournful family members, coworkers, students, and members of the community just weeks ago at a candlelight vigil held in honor of slain 16 year-old Murphy High School student Raven Hamilton, I saw how delicate and precarious life can be. A mother and father have to bury a child — something so seemingly contrary to life’s order — while her friends forced to confront the reality of mortality much sooner than they should have to, and a community once again grieving because of innocence lost due to violence and depravity. Yet, as I stood there amidst the sadness and mourning, rays of hope shone through something initiated that night called: Raven’s Promise. A challenge that many students accepted to “act and not react, and handle all situations in a non-violent way.”

As an educator, my days are filled with interactions amongst those who resolutely recited the Raven’s Promise pledge. What better way to honor this vibrant and happy young lady’s life than to model the type of behavior many teenagers committed to live that night, and help keep that promise fresh in their mind.

2014 not only has encouraged me to be an example for and help motivate our young, but has renewed my appreciation for the debt owed to our elders. Noble Beasley passed in October. Having spent most of his adult life in prison for reasons that are still clouded with controversy, Beasley’s legacy is nevertheless that of a vocal and relentless advocate for black equality in Mobile. Like many who labored during the civil rights era, it seemed as though various forces were marshaled to assure silence or marginalization, making it clear that often standing for right is fraught with adversity and trouble.

As I stand on the threshold of a new year, the memory of these lives and the circumstances of their passing serve as a means to value each day and apply purpose and meaning to each one. The New Year is not only about starting anew but also remembering and learning from experience. My desire for 2015 is to embrace the present with the resoluteness and wisdom garnered from the past.