The Making of Life
Existence is the beginning and the end. It is the goal of every potentiality curled inside a shadow. To exist is to matter. After that, the goal becomes to matter more. And then, to matter less. The journey from birth to death is a dull trip dotted with moments of terror and excitement, of joy and grief, mostly due to the acts of our fellow inhabitants. We’re all responsible in some degree for the clamor occurring in each other’s lives. For instance, did you know that Italians invented Al Sharpton?
It was in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn, still a white enclave back in 1989, populated mostly by Italian-Americans, as well as many of Irish and German extraction. That’s where Yusuf Hawkins was killed, attacked by a gang of neighborhood youths and shot to death by one of them. What followed was a series of protest marches through the streets of Bensonhurst led by Rev. Al Sharpton, accompanied by civil rights attorney Alton Maddox. Both were trying to get past the embarrassment of the Tawana Brawley episode and this opportunity presented itself to them. They were going to challenge an entire white neighborhood in New York. And the neighborhood accepted the challenge. The local evening television news gave full coverage to the chanting marchers and jeering spectators, some of whom held up watermelons that were supposed to punctuate the insults. After the last march, Sharpton was stabbed by a white man who, it turned out, wasn’t from Bensonhurst and wasn’t even Italian. Reverend Al was redeemed, Bensonhurst defeated.
We give life to things. We’re not supposed to, theologically speaking. It ends badly when we do. Ask a Jew about Golem. Ask Mary Shelley about her guy. We imagine so much more about each other than we should give credit for. We imagine motive in others. We imagine their ruthlessness. We never imagine their charity, or their desire for peace. Andrew Carnegie recognized this after making billions of dollars selling steel to governments intent on surviving war. He recognized that for each government, their weapons were meant to keep the peace, while every other government’s weapons were meant to breech that peace. He spent most every penny trying to make people realize that what we give life to may, in the end, kill us all. His trouble was that he never understood Italians.
To this day, white people mock Al Sharpton, not because he’s an obviously easy mark (he is) but because they fear him. And that’s the fault of the people of Bensonhurst, circa 1989. If they had stayed home, if they had watched from the sidewalk with bemusement, Al Sharpton would have made no impact on their community. If they had taken those watermelons home and sliced them up in the backyard and invited everyone in for a slice, even the marchers, Al Sharpton could have been rebuked in the best way, the only way really, to answer the protest: to acknowledge the mistake and promise to do better. This is where existence begins and ends. Our contribution to it is undoubtable in retrospect. Determinism is real, yet all too often subject to our reflexively bad impulses. So, that’s how Italians invented Al Sharpton. Is there anything else we can do for you today?
 Newspaper reports at the time gave the spelling of the victim’s first name as “Yusef.” Eighteen years later, the New York Times published a correction - Correction: For the Record NEW YORK TIMES MARCH 20, 2007