I’ve had to rewrite this post several times from scratch this week, so murky and tangled are my thoughts and feelings, in hopes the writing will untangle some of the snarl.
Photo by Anna L. Tulou Orr
This has been a hard week for many. With the incidents in Boston, in West, Texas, and the ongoing strife in many areas of the world, I think many of us are just exhausted. I’ve always been a person who cried readily over movies or books or news stories. Since becoming a mom, I even cry over commercials and storybooks—my paradigm has shifted. Now I see every single human being through a new lens; I see that every single one of them is someone’s child, whether events have cast them as victim or villain or hero. We are all someone’s baby, regardless of what good we’ve done, nor what harm.
So much good can rise out of terrible grief. Extreme circumstances often show us the best of humanity, and I honestly believe (because I must) that this is by far the stronger force. Grief can be cathartic. The Leong family unexpectedly lost their five-year-old son just last weekend—and through their terrible grief, they sought and continue seeking to find light, to find meaning, wanting to arrange to donate their son’s organs to help some other person, calling for random acts of kindness to be shared on their Facebook page (wonderful and heart-lifting to read so many posts), and asking for charitable giving in their son’s memory. I hold them in awe and am so grateful for the example they set, the things they’ve been teaching me and so many others this past week.
To those in Boston who ran to donate blood or ran toward the explosions to help the wounded despite the obvious danger, you are heroes. In the midst of unthinkable violence, you remind all of us of what we hold to be undeniably good. No one can argue it.
When I was in school, a student was shot and killed after a concert for his shoes, a senseless act. His parents came to the school and spoke to us, and I remember, young as I was, being frankly dumbfounded. Their son had been brutally, needlessly killed, and they stood in front us talking about compassion, about forgiveness. I have carried that message with me throughout my adult life, and I thank them for teaching me something very important about the nature of grace, the nature of peace.
My heart breaks for the victims, my heart breaks for the families that are left behind to grieve because all too easily, I can imagine the horror of losing a child, a husband, a parent. The very thought of it makes it hard to breathe.
My heart breaks for the aggressors and their families. It is hard to imagine what happened in their lives to bring them to this place, this harrowing hunt. It is hard to imagine what their families might be going through right now.
My heart breaks when I hear that a Muslim woman out walking with her child in Boston has been assaulted and accused of being a terrorist simply because she was wearing a hijab (revealing her religious affiliation) on a public street.
And my heart breaks when I hear friends, people I believe to be good, compassionate people, talking about what they want to see done to the suspects. Talking about an “eye for an eye,” saying that torture would be a good idea, saying they should hand them over to the bar crowd in Boston for mob justice.
Much of the talk I hear, I know, may be simply blowing off steam, yet it all adds up to a weirdly accepted public dialogue, a potentially frightening social consciousness and conscience. Consider this: even if you’re blowing off steam and you “don’t really mean it,” perhaps your child hears you. Perhaps your friends don’t realize you don’t mean it, and maybe, just maybe, it makes them feel a little more okay with their own impulses to lash out, to retaliate, to seek revenge, to denounce an entire group of people based on the actions of a few.
Small and seemingly innocuous statements add up to become big, ugly social issues. This is where racism comes from. This is why innocent people are attacked. And our children—because everyone is someone’s child—soak it up. It’s not the kind of pay-it-forward that I support.
Let’s be clear: there is a difference between revenge and justice. Due process must not be sacrificed to vigilantism and hatred, not even in jest.
Grief can be cathartic. Great tragedies can allow a great light to shine into the world, standing in stark relief against dark events. Or, grief can turn to anger, intolerance, and further violence.
Grief must and should be struggled with in order to forge a better, stronger community. This is what we have learned from our greatest teachers: Gandhi, Jesus, Martin Luther King, the Dalai Lama, to name a few. All witnessed horrendous violence and intolerance and met it, unflinching, with peace and compassion. All changed the world, against all odds. Pacifism is not for the faint of heart.
So here is my plea. Wrestle with your grief and temper your anger—do not let your rage poison you. Be mindful of the voice you are sharing with the world. Let your voice be a light in the darkness. Hold your loved ones close. Seek out opportunities for grace.
We are all of us someone’s child, and children learn.