By Joey Kennedy
A friend told me that March is the cruelest month, and I was curious. So, I Googled.
April is the cruelest, writes T.S. Eliot in “The Waste Land”:
“April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.”
OK. Maybe Eliot is onto something.
After all, in Birmingham, it was April 1963 that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was jailed for marching through Kelly Ingram Park and downtown Birmingham without a permit. Yet, it’s also when King wrote his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” For what that writing accomplished, the “Letter” certainly was worth a few days in jail, an event King brilliantly orchestrated. Eugene “Bull” Connor demonstrated it’s easy to fool a fool.
April also is the month President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865. No crueler event could occur during that time in our nation’s history.
In April 2011, we suffered through the massive tornado outbreak in Alabama that killed more than 240 people, more than 50 in Tuscaloosa alone.
But maybe the cruelest month is May. That’s when, in 1963, Connor turned water cannons and dogs on peaceful marchers in Birmingham. The video and photos went worldwide, putting Birmingham on the map. But not the good map. The cruel map.
Still, the cruelest month may be September, when four Ku Klux Klan racists set a dynamite bomb at the 16th Street Baptist church on a Sunday morning. That explosion killed four little girls—Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, and Addie Mae Collins. What’s often forgotten is that another 22 people were injured.
And September is also the month that in 2001, terrorists flew passenger jets into the World Trade Center Twin Towers in New York, and into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and into a field in Pennsylvania, killing thousands and injuring many others.
Which is the cruelest month?
March? April? May? September? We do have our choices. Twelve of them, right?
January qualifies. That’s the month in 1986 when the Space Shuttle Challenger was destroyed right after liftoff, killing seven astronauts, including Christa McAuliffe, the first Teacher in Space. And years later, on the first day of February in 2003, Space Shuttle Columbia broke up over Texas while re-entering Earth’s atmosphere, ending the lives of another seven astronauts. Put February on the list.
November is cruel, too. It’s the month in 1963 that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. And in 2016, we had a presidential election that many of us would call pretty darn cruel.
In August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama gulf coasts.
We could go month by month, racking up disasters. Racking up cruelty. Racking our brains.
But you know what? We could also go month by month finding wonderful stories, positive, uplifting stories and events. Episodes that show humanity at its very best. Even many of the disasters already discussed had amazingly, surprisingly positive outcomes. People who showed their courage in the face of police dogs and fire canons. People who dug through the rubble after 9/11 for weeks and months. People who saved their neighbors after tornadoes and hurricanes and earthquakes.
It all depends on our attitudes. Life is what it is. There are disasters, sure, and they happen all the time, in every month, of every year.
How we respond to them is the legacy we leave.
At no time, in my observations over the years, has a call gone out for aid in Birmingham that it wasn’t answered. We have a high homicide rate in Birmingham and, yes, that’s cruel, but we also are one of the most generous communities in the nation.
Our United Way of Central Alabama fundraising campaigns are a success year after year after year. When it gets really cold and the warming station at Boutwell Auditorium must open for the city’s homeless and others, local restaurants join together to feed those in need. Volunteers spend the night at the station to help those in residence. City leaders go out of their way to provide hygiene kits and other necessities.
We are, generally, a kind people. I believe that, and I’m not being naïve.
To Eliot, April may be the “cruellest month, breeding/Lilacs out of the dead land …” But Eliot’s “The Waste Land” is kind of a downer anyway.
Our dysfunction kicks in when we group up. When we care more about political philosophies than we do about the many possibilities. We are fooled when we don’t educate ourselves or look at all reports—fake news, real news, any news—with a skeptical mind and dig a little deeper ourselves.
We should be ashamed when we allow fear to take over our souls.
Let us dump the cruel months, the cruel attitudes, the cruel natures within ourselves that are within our absolute control.
We can. If we will.