I spent Friday morning writing, in a frenzy of focus, about ethics and literature and religion. I sat crosslegged on my couch and spun phrases as the sky gathered the sun up into itself, from darkness to light. Toward the end of that writing marathon, I checked the news.
I have to say this: children die daily. Children die daily in situations for which I am culpable as a privileged global citizen. This claim is not liberal guilt. It is simply true. I have to say this: children were wounded in a knife attack in China; children die of thirst and hunger; children die of gun violence on the streets of my old Chicago neighborhood; children are "collateral damage" in wars that benefit western economies; children are abused, far and near. I do not want to care only when violence is closer to home, perpetrated against those with whom I can most identify.
But the visceral reaction within myself, as a hopeful someday-parent, the gut-wrenching horror of so many people, I think, does come from proximity (maybe not in miles, but in social location), of being able so easily to imagine: those could be my children; that could be our local school. Perhaps we should let this be for us a reminder that the whole world lives in a state of fragility, of vulnerability, some places more than others.
And I keep asking myself, how can we change this reality?
I believe we should have better controls on guns. I believe that giving up a bit of freedom for the sake of the common good is a worthy sacrifice. I believe this, especially, as a Christian, and wish my friends far and wide agreed with me: when we shout me, mine--my freedoms, my rights, wanting to protect my household--we do not sound like a Messiah who emptied himself to bring resurrection and taught his followers to become servants of everyone. When we believe in the myth of redemptive violence we forget that Love came to end that cycle of retribution.
I also believe we need better supports for mental health, more conversation around the stories and images that shape our imaginations toward violence. I think we need to talk about social systems that leave people ostracized, gender norms that emphasize masculine power. I think we need to prayerfully, tearfully consider the ways scenes of mass violence are a bubbling-up of an underlying lava: in our culture and in ourselves.
I will sign petitions and work to spread awareness and use my vote. I will continue to write and teach about justice and suffering and redemption. I will clutch my knees to my chest and mourn, barefoot, on the floor. But here is what I did on Friday afternoon, other than weeping: I met a new friend to play piano with her violin in a mostly-empty church where sunlight streamed in a bit like a betrayal of the darkness of that day. We worked together to make something beautiful. And then she invited us to join her family for supper, and we did, and I sat next to her little girl not yet in school and let her coax me, again and again, into laughter, as I coaxed her into eating her food. I felt the lamplight pooled around us.
And then I was welcomed into a gathering of senior citizens at a game night, and oh, the precious warmth of their faces turned toward me when I entered the room. Men clustered around a wooden board and flicked disks through circles like champs, and women dealt cards and arranged tiles and chatted and laughed. Together we ate bacon-wrapped water chestnuts and drank coffee and peeled tangerines.
And on Saturday morning, I helped harness some of the tumbling energy of more than a dozen Sunday School kids wrapped in brown pillow slips and and bathrobes, practicing their Christmas pageant. It was a beautiful mess, the kind that gives you a headache and fills your eyes with joy-tears.
What I am saying is: I am longing--and learning--to open my eyes to the glimpses of goodness here and now that can spur on my imaginings of some more welcoming, more boisterous and more gentle collection of crisscrossed beloved communities around the globe.
What I am praying is: May we mourn, and may we also act. May we seek visions of beauty, and shape them together, and work with courage and creativity--not on behalf of ourselves alone, but on behalf of the incandescent gatherings of people that populate our entire world.