Tuesday, August 12, 2014


The world is heavy with grief, thick with sorrow, thrumming with holy anger and laden with despair. I sit in a suburban Canadian living room, embroiled in my own tiny life's stresses, and wonder how to move my limbs and grin at my baby when she wakes from her nap, because how can we breathe the beautiful air, even, when the earth is so overcome?

I am talking about Ebola hemorrhagic fever. I am talking about the Mount Polley mine spill in B.C. I am talking about Ukraine. I am talking about Gaza. I am talking about Iraq. I am talking about Mike Brown, the Missouri teenager who should have started college this week but was killed by a police officer in truly dubious circumstances.

Online today, many of my friends are publicly mourning Robin Williams, who took his own life yesterday at age 63. I am sad about Robin Williams, a talented actor whose work especially touched my own generation. The suicide of a well-regarded celebrity is a strong reminder of the terrible grip of depression, even in the life of a successful individual. And as a middle-aged white male, Williams exemplifies the population most at risk for suicide in the United States these days.

But the fact that Williams is trending on social media today, including among my own circles, makes me wonder about our attention to this and not that. We feel socked in the gut by a loss of one of our own. I'm talking about white Americans here.

I've also been curious about the number of my friends using the Arabic letter "N" (for "Nasrani," or "Christian") on social media. The news from Iraq is horrifying, but Christians are not the only populations being targeted by ISIS. Aren't Christians meant to long for peace and justice among all the dispossessed?

There is something very deep in us that leads us more emotionally connected to those who are like us: perhaps it's self-regard (we fear for ourselves, implicitly, when we see the vulnerability of those we recognize as reflecting us somehow), or perhaps it's an age-old tribal mentality. In any case, human history is shaped by the question of who is in and who is out, competition for resources between warring clans and nations.

But we aren't meant to just give into that impulse, right? We aren't meant to stand in solidarity only with those who look or dress or talk or live like we do?

Isn't there something to be said for resisting that impulse, for trying to nurture in ourselves a concern for those who are in various ways "other" from us? Which is to say, an American doctor's life has the same net value as a Nigerian housecleaner's (or an American housecleaner's, or a Nigerian doctor's)? Which is to say, the senseless death of a young black man deserves as much attention as the senseless death of a middle-aged white man? Right?

I don't have a profound statement or a lyrical conclusion today. These are just thoughts I'm thinking, as I mourn and pray and wish for something better in this world. Mercy, I suppose, is what I keep asking heaven for. Mercy.

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