“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”
Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Do happen. Are happening.
This is our world.
When I read the news last Tuesday morning I felt sick. Once again our Western world has been rocked by terror. My own personal safety bubble, and that which I place my children in feels suddenly less in-penetrable. Once again we realize our human frailty. Once again we acknowledge vulnerability and stare it in the face.
Boston is terrible. Terrifying. Completely wrong.
I wonder if the word ‘Safety’ needs re-thinking. Or just simply removing altogether. It holds false promise. Because the world is not ‘safe’. We cannot protect ourselves, and those we love from the terrible things that are happening in this world. Boston and Newton and cancer and AIDS and meningitis and War and drunk driving and suicide and on and on and on…Terrible things will happen.
Here in Malawi we live behind a six foot wall. Above our wall sits a high voltage electric fence. We have 24 hour guard, one during the day and two at night. They patrol the perimeter of our property every hour. They radio in a report to HQ every half hour throughout the night. We have bars on all our windows and at night we lock our doors behind iron gates with padlocks. We sleep behind a ‘Safe haven’ another door with an iron bar across it. We have a panic button in the house, which will bring a rapid response team in full riot gear to our home within 5 minutes.
Does any of this make us ‘safe’?
Because ‘Here is the world and terrible things will happen.’
And beautiful things too.
Beautiful is people who run towards the broken and bleeding bodies of strangers in the aftermath of a bomb scene, momentarily oblivious of their own vulnerability.
Beautiful is the people of Denmark who during Nazi occupation in world war 2, hid nearly 7000 jews in the bottom of fishing boats, under the floors, and with unfathomable bravery and at absolute risk to themselves and their families, smuggled them across to safety in unoccupied Sweden.
Beautiful is a mummy and daddy called Kate and Ed Leong who lost their beautiful brave 5 year old son, Gavin, last week. And in the midst of their worst nightmare, with broken hearts, and no sense of ‘why’, or ‘how the hell to piece their lives back together,’ they gave all his organs to other mummies and daddies who were waiting for life saving organs for their babies.
Somehow, in the carnage of life’s worst horrors, people rise up. That’s the beautiful.
I’m not for a minute saying that bad stuff has to happen in order for goodness to shine – yuk, vomit, hate that shit.
Anne Lamott summed it up beautifully for me this week when she wrote the following;
“It is hard not to be afraid, isn’t it? Some wisdom traditions say that you can’t have love and fear at the same time, but I beg to differ. You can be a passionate believer in God, in Goodness, in Divine Mind, and the immortality of the soul, and still be afraid. I’m Exhibit A.
The temptation is to say, as cute little Christians sometimes do, Oh, it will all make sense someday. Great blessings will arise from the tragedy, seeds of new life sown. And I absolutely believe those things, but if it minimizes the terror, it’s bullshit.
My understanding is that we have to admit the nightmare, and not pretend that it wasn’t heinous and agonizing; not pretend it as something more esoteric. Certain spiritual traditions could say about Hiroshima, Oh, it’s the whole world passing away.
Well, I don’t know.
I wish I could do what spiritual teachers teach, and get my thoughts into alignment with purer thoughts, so I could see peace and perfection in Hiroshima, in Newton, in Boston. Next time around, I hope to be a cloistered Buddhist. This time, though, I’m just a regular screwed up sad worried faithful human being.
There is amazing love and grace in people’s response to the killings. It’s like white blood cells pouring in to surround and heal the infection. It just breaks your heart every time, in the good way, where Hope tiptoes in to peer around. For the time being, I am not going to pretend to be spiritually more evolved than I am. I’m keeping things very simple: right foot, left foot, right foot, breathe.”
Man, I wish I could say it like that. “ Like white blood cells pouring in to surround and heal the infection…where hope tiptoes in to peer around”
I always find it interesting how we as humans are so totally engaged with what is going on in our immediate geography. We forget about ‘terrible’ until it tips up on our personal doorstep and rings the bell. When the unthinkable happens in our community, in our family, in our nation – when it becomes ‘personal’, we flip out and panic as our fabricated safety walls start to crumble around us. It’s normal. Its what we do. But, and once again I quote Anne Lemott, “Its bullshit.”
We need to get over our personal geography and remember that this horror, the terrible parts of life, are happening every day all over this world to people just like you and me. Terrible things happen every minute of every day. Take a look at the world news. Mali. Libya. The Middle East.
So what should our response be? Higher walls? More panic buttons?
Our natural instinct is to self protect. Especially where our kids are concerned. Geeze, when it comes to my kids I’m like “how high can we get that wall? And if someone does actually try to get over it, can we up the voltage on the fence so that it actually fry’s them?”
That’s not beautiful. Human, but not beautiful.
I want my kids to learn that nothing is guaranteed. That life can be terrible. But it can also be exceptionally beautiful.
I want them to know that I don’t have it all figured out.
I want them to learn that beauty is contagious. And healing. And life-giving.
I want them to learn that sometimes they will feel afraid, but that courage, and compassion and grace and love will “like white blood cells, pour in to surround and heal the infection”
I want to be brave enough to say to them (metaphorically)“The person climbing over the wall is making a wrong choice. The person is not doing a good thing. I feel afraid. But this person is making this choice because there is something very wrong in their world, and they are hurting and afraid too. We need to have great courage. We need to reach out. We need to offer this world our love and our brave hearts, so that less people feel hurt and afraid. We need to give this world, beautiful.
I want them to learn that people can choose beautiful.
I want them to learn that despite terrible, they can choose beautiful.