I’m not good at empathy. Never have been. It actually took having a kid to drill that quality into my heart, an extreme measure on God’s part to empty me of myself, but maybe he was running out of options? At any rate, empathy runs right alongside sleeplessness and frequent illness and all-consuming love as side effects of childbearing, and I felt it overwhelmingly on Friday afternoon, when I looked up from teeth and at the office TV to see the news out of Connecticut.
I had already thrown up on the floor at work that day (see aforementioned “frequent illness”), so bursting into tears didn’t break my seal of humiliation. I’ve never wanted to leave work so badly–and trust me, that’s saying something. When I walked up to the door at The Kid’s daycare and saw him playing in the exersaucer, characteristic head tilt and grin present, I cried again. Sometimes gratitude doesn’t have to be tracked down.
Then, in characteristic form for me, I headed home and embarked upon some cynicism and taking-for-granted. Though I, like all of you, resolved to be more grateful and hug loved ones more tightly, I checked Facebook and Twitter first and walked away wishing that both social networks would take a collective moment of silence. I realize this sounds disingenuous coming from someone who writes a weekly blog ABOUT HERSELF, but I found the status-updated attempts at catharsis to border on self-indulgence. How can you summarize tragedy in one hundred and forty characters or less? I just wanted to be quiet. So I was–and proceeded into my weekend, recovering from illness as TK embarked upon his, and felt sad and undeserving for a couple of days as I struggled to be grateful (secret: struggling doesn’t achieve it) and just felt irritable and heavy-hearted.
Part of my irritation, I realized pretty quickly, was that everyone was seeking an immediate answer. Or trying to tritely provide one. Arming teachers vs. taking away everyone’s guns. Posting prayers vs. denouncing God’s existence. Such extremes by well-intentioned people. Then the bouts of name-calling and blame-placing (really, people? if you own a gun you’re complicit in the tragedy? FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, back away from the soapboxes!). I follow Ricky Gervais on Twitter (or should I say, TK does?) for two reasons: he’s funny and he’s an atheist. I’m not (either?), but I feel an inclination to hear from people who are. Gervais is on a life path that led him to his belief system (and make no mistake, atheism is a belief system too), and I have been convicted lately of how each of us is such: a product of experiences that have led us exactly where we are. Which is to say that judgment and name-calling are so laughably hypocritical and counter-productive because were it not for the direction of God or Xenu or your self-willed control or whatever you believe in, you could be that person you sneer at. So can I submit that we take away our judgment of The Other Side and really examine this?
The hashtag #notpowerless was trending on Twitter yesterday, and that personified my frustration with all these pithy responses to the tragedy. Because here’s the thing: we sort of are. Powerless, I mean. I’m not suggesting we all crouch in a defeatist fetal position in the corner and give up on life; quite the opposite. But if any of us aspires to a form of hope in this lifetime, we must open our eyes and face facts about the position we’re in: broken people in a broken world. An evil surrounds us that will not be vanquished by making new laws or changing old ones. And here’s the thing: it’s always been around. You think the world is getting scarily violent just now? It always has been. War has always been a part of this planet’s landscape, and it rears its head in myriad forms, from guillotines to atomic bombs to movie theater rampages. Evil loves to capitalize on brokenness, and it never runs out of weapons.
But redemption loves to heal brokenness. And I believe it gets the final word.
To think that we can solve our ultimate problem on our own, through solely practical measures, is to choose blindness, to walk among the carnage with our hands over our eyes. You can’t heal a heart by placing a gun in a teacher’s hand or taking one away from a hunting enthusiast. Evil is looking for a way in always; it is insidious and unyielding and if we have only our own resources, the ones we can see and control, to save us, then we are screwed indeed.
Control is not the opposite of helplessness. How can it be when it’s an illusion at best? Do you know how many people you walk past each day who have a hidden agenda? Do you really believe there’s a way to legislate ourselves into peace, or enough pillows needlepointed with Bible verses to hide behind until the storm is over? We need more. If the outrage we feel in our hearts tells us anything, it’s that easy answers are not enough.
I believe faith is the opposite of helplessness, the antidote to it, and I respect your stance if you disagree. But here’s the thing: if you have questions, or doubts, or outrage, then you’re already more at home in faith than you know. It’s the offerers of simple solutions and trite prescriptions who haven’t stumbled upon real truth yet. The ultimate resolution to all this mess can’t be summed up by a status update or a framed proverb; it is a story, a narrative that unfolds over the halls of time, and it doesn’t insult our need for meaning by showing up on Twitter. And if that story does hold the answer, doesn’t it stand to reason that it’s big enough to operate outside the limitations of my current understanding? Do I have the wisdom to be willing to wait for it to be fully revealed, even as the world groans and heaves with heart-wrenching pain?
It comes back to the question, I guess: What if there’s more? What if the longing we have for good to win, the need we have for things to be set right, what if that comes from somewhere and is headed somewhere? What if we must live in constant grief/joy, defeat/triumph because we’re in the middle of it all? Maybe I’m not as cynical as I think; maybe I’m just done with short, easy answers. I want the story. Because there’s this:
What if the story isn’t over yet?