In Memoriam: Lewis Samuel Gordon

This blog entry is from my weekly radio segment on The Redding News Review (Tuesday, October 17, 2012):


I speak tonight of mourning the recently dead across the world. We often glimpse at the fact that people die daily, yet we do not think of how lives are shattered by their loss. A Syrian activist realized recently that a YouTube clip he was sending round the world turned out to include his father, who was murdered by the regime, displayed among a set of other corpses with a bullet in his head.

When it comes to death, we often forget that, in each case, there is the loss of someone loved.

Amy Alexander and Dr. Alvin Poussaint wrote a book on African Americans and suicide (Lay My Burden Down: Suicide and the Mental Health Crisis among African-Americans), where they point out that the many ways in which African Americans are consigned to a slow death are acted out each day.

I have sadly encountered too much of this with the death of many family members. The most recent began in an unusual way. Several years ago I was stopped at Immigration while returning to the US from a conference in Jamaica. The agent asked if I ever lived in Los Angeles. I said no, but was nevertheless detained for a while and then sent on my way. After this happened several times, I began to say right away, “I never lived in Los Angeles.”

I began to wonder about the people who shared my name. As my father was dead, I became concerned about my paternal brother, for whom I was searching to regain contact for more than a decade.

The mystery was solved when I was reunited with Lewis Samuel Gordon, whom our family knew as “Tafari,” in honor of “Ras Tafari,” as my father was also an Afro-Chinese Rastafarian. Although a former marine who had fought in six wars for the USA, Tafari had returned to Chicago to the unwelcoming world faced by black veterans. Unable to find work to support his children, he got caught up in the illicit economy and was sentenced to 13 years in prison and then deported to Jamaica. As he had left the island when he was a small child, he was in effect banished to a foreign land. Those agents at the border had thought I was Lewis Samuel Gordon attempting to return to the United States and had expected from their trick question a response of, “Los Angeles?  No, I live in Chicago.”

For Tafari, being deported to Jamaica was a sentence placed on an already served sentence.  He was left at the airport in a world he did not know.   Our reunion more than a year later was a bittersweet moment of embracing a loved one who found himself attempting to live in what for him was life in hell. On October 13th, this deported Marine, a warrior in six wars and one banished through another, was pronounced dead as a consequence of his battle with a brain tumor and meningitis. He was 43.

I once lived in the world of three Lewis Gordons related to each other. I now stand as the only one remaining.   I am reminded, through this fact of naming, that at the end of the day, the loss of every loved one is that of a part of us.

When I last spoke with my brother, he said he was at peace with responsibility for his actions, but he wondered about a world that rewarded him for killing for oil and the rich but had such severe punishment for circumstances in which he never harmed a single soul.

To my deceased brother and many of those falling prey to unjust societies across the globe, I conclude with a reflection from the great W.E.B. Du Bois’s Soliloquy on My Life at the End of Its First Century:

     Let then the Dreams of the dead rebuke the Blind who think that what is will be forever and teach them 
     that what was worth living for must live again and that which merited death must stay dead. Teach us, 
     Forever Dead, there is no Dream but Deed, there is no Deed but Memory.

© Lewis R. Gordon