I haven’t been sleeping well the past few nights. I keep thinking about the murder of Temple University police office Christopher Fitzgerald by an 18-year-old from Buckingham, PA. The story pulls at me. Temple and Buckingham are both my hometowns. I grew up in Central Bucks; went to elementary and high school in Buckingham. I am a proud Temple Alumni. My memories of the Temple Police are positive and filled with admiration. They are a police force that I witnessed bridge the gaps between community and university. They turned out to be strong advocates and resources when I was attacked by another student on campus.
My memories of home are positive, but also not so much. I did choose, very consciously, to not return to Bucks County and to not raise my family there. After Temple, it was hard to think about living in a place of so much privilege—and so much unawares. Everyone around me always seemed so unaware of struggle. My brother was invisible with his disability. My childhood friend was visible because of her race—and often treated with prejudice. Of course, these are generalizations. In the end, I just outgrow my childhood hometown and needed to be somewhere different.
The collision of these two worlds and the tragic murder of a young father has left my head spinning. Why, why can’t we turn back time and make everything different?
But I have felt this feeling before—I know we all have. I think the trauma of that feeling is part of why I feel so unsettled.
“Why can’t we turn back time?” used to be a steady drumbeat when I thought of Lily’s brain tumor diagnosis. What could I have done to stop this? Surely there is something? Someone must have missed something and we could have stopped the tumor before it started, right? Maybe there is something I did wrong? Something our ancestors did wrong? How far back can I go to change Lily’s story, but still land here, with Lily?
These are all futile thoughts, circular thoughts with no end and no resolution, because turning back time is impossible.
I mentioned this to an oncology researcher I was interviewing today. Dr. Serine Avagyan specializes in predisposition syndromes. When she spoke about treating these syndromes which can predispose a child to cancer, she talked about stopping time—catching rogue genetic operators and cells in their pre-malignant state. This is the time before these cells are cancer. There is the fire started, she said.
I thought about this all afternoon, friends. I thought about it in terms of kids with cancer—there is so much hope in this study of predisposition. I thought about it in terms of Officer Fitzgerald and in terms of all the violence and hate that plagues our world.
There were moments when his murderer’s story could have been different. There were moments when things could have been stopped. We cannot rewind. But we can think about the future and look around for moments to stop.
Of course, the trick is discerning these moments and once we do, trying to know what to do once we stop. The other trick is accepting how we cannot change the past—ever, no matter how many questions we ask or prayers we offer. The best we can do, I think, is to take the lessons from our own walks with hard things we cannot change. Take those lessons and remember when the opportunity comes to stop time and change the things we can.
If you haven’t heard about Officer Fitzgerald, you can read about him here and contribute to support his family through this time and beyond.