It is Tuesday morning and as most millennials, I wake up and reach for my phone. I start with instagram, then go over to Facebook and the first post I see is from Viola Davis. She has a picture of tWitch (Stephen Boss) on it and it is a tribute post that ends with RIP brother. I am immediately sent to shock and panic as I frantically open my safari app to google “tWitch death”. There he is, on every single news outlet “Stephen “tWitch” Boss dead by suicide”. With a quickness that I cannot explain, grief hits my chest and I take a deep breath and try to reason with myself. “Khanyisa, you do not know this man. He is a celebrity and not one of your brothers. It is weird for you to feel this for a stranger”. But, no amount of self reasoning can stop the Tsunami of emotions that are pouring over me. I am stuck on the bed, I see videos of him dancing with his wife and kids. I wonder what happened. What could have happened? What got so heavy? What was he carrying? So, I google him. I find nothing but dancing videos, a busy schedule, and I am left with this gaping hole of confusing grief.
There is something peculiarly confusing to me about grief. It is one of the most unexplainable emotions for me. The ways in which it moves, how it sometimes ricochets from space and time. How it inhabits the body and sits in the throat. How it makes your hands shake and sweat, one time, it made my teeth hurt. How sometimes it likes rage as its companion. The two like to tango together and when they do, my fists form and lips tighten. On Tuesday, grief taught me that we belong to each other. It taught me that it has the power to bind us together across continents. It taught me that it is not limited to friends and family, but can gently transcend intimate relationships and be felt for strangers. I haven’t stopped seeing heartfelt posts about tWitch. His big smile has been embedded in my mind for two days now. I imagine his pain as he makes that painful decision to end his own suffering. I think about his guilt as he thinks about his wife and kids but the pain outweighs that guilt. I am in shock and grief.
If you don’t know, Ubuntu is a Bantu word that translates to Humanity. It was made popular by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and speaks to our human connection. Ubuntu is a beautiful reminder that we need each other. It affirms that I am because of you, and you are because of me. Ubuntu reminds us that we are not alone, that our humanity is interconnected and we all belong to each other. Grieving tWitch reminded me of this shared humanity this week. Our shared pain, joy, loss and longing.When I read about tWitch, I thought about my own battle with depression a few years ago. The darkness that engulfed me. I was reminded of how alone I was, how big my smile was and how loud I laughed. I experienced a heartbreak that I didn’t think I would ever survive. Sometimes that darkness lingers a little bit longer, and it convinces you that you are all alone.
When someone we love and admire takes their own life, we remind each other to check in on the “strong ones”. This is a sentiment that makes sense. Those with perceived strength struggle to ask for help because they are afraid to “show weakness”. Our society has demonized vulnerability for men, particularly black men. Society has, for generations equated vulnerability and seeking help as weakness. It has taught men to “man up, grow some balls, get their shit together, keep it moving”. It has perpetually told men to feel nothing but anger. I wish we can sit with this one, sit and marinate on the type of toxic masculine culture that we ALL directly or indirectly uphold. A culture that will experience this grief continuously until we realize that we need to change it.
I don’t want us to check in on the “strong ones”, I want us to check in on all of us! The ones perceived strong, the kind ones, the ones whose suffering we see and the ones who hide theirs…all of us. I want us to aggressively challenge the norms of manhood that we have created that suffocate (black) men. I want us to normalize a man’s tears and to hold him when he is in pain. Look, we do not know why tWitch ended it this week. I honor that it is speculative for me to think he was fighting an invincible enemy but I do know that he lost a fight that he had resources to win. I do know that we can do better! I know that we belong to each other!