Twelve Candles

My son stands on the threshold of twelve. And I shudder.

I should beam with maternal pride at the young man he is growing into with each hard conversation, each fought for grade, each wave of hot emotion he overcomes with self-control, each chore completed and lesson learned.

I should savor each day of his radiant smile, silly high-pitched laughter, his natural skill on the soccer field or basketball court, his practiced penmanship and comical clumsiness when it comes to eating.

I should look into his deep brown eyes and see his bright and long future. But it would take days, maybe too many weeks to count, to speak of his deep and ever widening compassion for others and try to articulate the trajectory of his potential in the landscape of his world.

He dreams of a life that spans Europe (for the soccer, of course), Burundi and other African countries, stints in the States and time spent with friends in Palestine (where he hopes to help broker a lasting peace – because he believes he has the imagination and capacity to bring peace).

But Tamir Rice reminds me that someone can sum him up in less than two seconds. Laquan McDonald reminds me maybe they will take six… to determine he is expendable. And with no conversation, no discernment, no due process or execution of justice someone can kill my son.

Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland and too many others would chime in: no indictment is coming.


My son stands on the threshold of twelve. And I hold my breath.

From now on I hold my breath because I know he looks older to others – studies show he is already perceived as a threatening black body. “To those who don’t know him,” I want to add because people who know my son are charmed by him – his jokes, his finesse on the field, his Technicolor imagination.

He isn’t an easy one to handle at all times – what adolescent boy is? He’s like gold under fire, melting, brazing, shaping into something stunning once cooled and polished. Someone stunning – if given the time to mature into the man I know he will be.

I hold my breath because it is almost dark and he’s not in the house yet – I stare down the sun and take deep breaths until I hear his hurried footsteps in the garage, then down the tiled hallway and finally into view as he lunges for a glass of water at the kitchen sink. He’s breathless from all the outdoor fun. I’m just breathless; relieved each time he’s home.

I hold my breath because I now know that brown boys don’t always make it through their suburban neighborhood. Sometimes they don’t survive the park, the street, even the walk home to watch a basketball game with their dad. How can they survive their bouts of immaturity under such conditions, I wonder.


My son stands on the threshold of twelve. And I lament.

There were the Hebrew sons drowned in the Nile by a hard-hearted Pharaoh, a ruler threatened by the fertility of enslaved people. Moses got out on a raft and a prayer… all thanks to the subversive strength of Jochabed, Miriam, Bithiah and the undaunted midwives.

Those baby boys killed by Herod, filled with fear and rage and trying to protect his reign over the streets of Bethlehem. It sent Joseph and Mary fleeing to Egypt with infant Jesus, another refugee family fleeing violence.

Now those boys are black and dying in our streets – Ferguson, Cleveland, Chicago… Another empire is racked with fear, riddled with racism and taking it out on our sons. Where can we find refuge? We never know if or when violence will be visited upon us.

So I lament the sons lost too soon. Everyday brings news of another name. The litany grows and the dirge never ends. How long, oh Lord? I echo the cadence of the Lamentations, the daughter of Zion crying out “None to comfort. None to comfort. There are none to comfort.”

I lament the slaughter of the innocents – then and now.


My son stands on the threshold of twelve. And I hope.

Because we are people of deep hope who belong to the God who creates and sustains life, the God who tears down but also rebuilds and restores and reconciles all things.

We hope because God births and nurses newness – even among, especially among mothers and sons who carry God’s likeness into the world.

We hope because death cannot have the last word, the tombs will be emptied.

My son will celebrate twelve – unlike the boys drowned in the Nile, the boys slayed in Bethlehem, the boys gunned down on our streets. But I will hold them all in my heart. And when my boy blows out the twelve candles, I will whisper Tamir Rice.

(I will also hold my breath…)



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2 thoughts on “Twelve Candles”

  1. Diana Trautwein
     ·  Reply

    Oh, how I wish you didn’t have to write this, to feel this . . . but you do. And I am sorry. Beautifully written, Kelley.

  2. Terri Major-Kincade
     ·  Reply

    Kelley!! I don’t know you but we are sisters!! Your fear is my fear!! Thank so much for your words you have captured my very real pain and cautious joy as I watch my on manchild mature!! I would love to share your piece on my FB page.As a minority physician in the US and mother to a briwn baby it’s challenging for me to get people to truly understand how I feel!! Bless you friend and Happy Birthday to your son!! I continue to pray for all of our sons and daughters!! Hugs

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All writing on this site represents my own journey, my own wrestling, my own epiphanies. While I work with Communities of Hope, ideas shared here do not necessarily represent this organization.