Rest, Coop. But, Dear Reader, Do Something
I've struggled for what to say about AJ Cooper. It is over 24 hours now since I got the text that read, "omg Jay died." I still don't know what to say. I don't know how to feel. I know two things. Jay was special. Jay is special.
I met Jay about 23, maybe 25 years ago. I can't really say we were ever friends because we weren't. We knew each other by face from various youth-era extracurricular activities and from rolling in the same vague nexus of middle class black kids. But I always kind of laughed about Jay. When we were young, he was almost too ... much. Almost too pretty. Almost too full of shit. Sometimes he seemed like he thought he was a celebrity. Maybe he was a celebrity. I don't know. But back then, I could almost imagine him becoming a cult leader. (If this sounds insulting, it isn't meant that way. I could have imagined myself leading a lucrative cult, too.) I don't know why cult leader comes to mind, but it does. To me, he was weird, in a totally normal, not really a jerk, but maybe kind of a jerk, totally bourgie, but caring and down-to-earth and a little boring way.
I am not sure what to say.
When my stomach first dropped at the news yesterday, I thought it was mostly a selfish, mourning-my-own-mortality feeling. (I tend to weep for myself and my unrealized dreams at the funerals of my contemporaries. Perhaps this is strange, but it happens.) I tried to snap out of it and think of his family. But this feeling was about much more than me or even Jay.
This morning, I said aloud to my aunt, "It is weird. I can't exactly imagine a DC without Mayor Barry, or without Jay." When I sat down to write this, I realized I don't have to imagine. We are here. We, those who were touched by him, them, both far and near, are together in a DC without either.
But Jay is not past tense. He is. He still is. He still is right here. We are here.
You see what I mean, of course: that we needn't imagine a world without him? We are here. We. And Jay's work was never just his work. It is our work. Jay's world was never just his world. It is our world.
And yet Jay, as distinguished from many of us, took concrete responsibility for doing real work to impact our city. I am tempted to say he grew up.
But honestly, I wasn't always sure what to make of Jay-come-lately. I sometimes referred to him as, "Politician Jay." But then, one day out of the blue, he asked me to help him clean up a block just because, well, someone needed to do it. He was serious and direct, but enthusiastic -- like youth-level enthusiastic. It was fantastic. So I shrugged to myself because who cares what to make of him? Who cares? The answer, though not to my initial internal question, was Jay cares. And to the next natural question, "what matters," the answer was DC matters. America matters. Black people matter. Poor people matter. Every day people matter. We matter.
And for that reason/those reasons/every reason, we must work.
I say all that to say that I now know what I must say. We must work. We must pray hard, but work smart. We must think big, but work small. We must take note, but speak loud. This is our city. This is our country. This is our world. We must own it. We must own up.
And this comes back to the idea of growing up. I think that's where many of us went wrong. I've known most of the people reading this long enough to know you are special, and not in that way that parents think their crappy C-student kids are special. Not "bless your heart" special. Really fucking special. "To whom much is given" special. I know that back before you grew up, you believed that you were going to singlehandedly change the world. You felt the heartbeat of this great nation so strongly inside that you were overflowing with creative solutions and irrational hope. Today, I want to remind you of that.
If you do things, keep doing them. Don't look for accolades. Keep working. If you have stopped doing things, start. Don't look for a plan. Draft one.
If you have become afraid, be fearless. To my many "I just can't do it"s my mom would reply, "I know you can't, but I believe you can, so try." Believe. Try.
What I have to say is that I believe in the magnificence in you that I saw fifteen or twenty or thirty years ago. I believe in that glorious thing in you that I may not have understood because I didn't yet believe in myself. But now, I believe. And my belief may be all that I have, but it is enough to share. So take it; do something.
What I have to say is: Be inspired. Be gracious. Be empowered. Be victorious. Be curious. Be giving. Be humble. But most of all, do something.
I love you guys.