Saturday, November 14, 2015

On a Dark Day

I saw the news scroll across the bottom of the television screen that hung above my friends’ heads – for whatever reason, the restaurant was playing the news in English. “100 hostages reported in Paris concert hall” and “40 dead” and “Explosions throughout the city.”

The number of dead and injured kept climbing on the ticker at the bottom of the screen – I couldn’t hear what the reporter was saying, but she stood on a dark street and the people running behind her looked afraid. After a few minutes, the channel changed to a soccer match and I turned back to my friends’ conversation.

That could be it. That could be my entire connection to the tragedy that is still unfolding. But it shook me, and I couldn’t get it out of my head all last night, this morning.

“Pain is one of the gifts God gives us.” From the back of my mind comes a lesson from my second or third-grade science book. I remember the picture of a girl with her hand outstretched, about to touch a hot stove. “Pain lets us know that there is a problem so that we can fix it,” and she pulls her hand back. The second picture shows her smiling, hand raised.

This morning I took a bus to a coffee shop so I could read the news – 129 dead in Paris; 352 injured, 99 in critical condition. I read friends’ posts that pointed out, rightly, that similar massacres occurred this week: in Beirut where 43 were killed and 239 injured, and in Baghdad, where 26 were killed and dozens injured.

I read posts criticizing the media for focusing on tragedies in wealthy, Western nations while ignoring these tragedies elsewhere. I remembered again that while the media runs on a news cycle, the world does not. Though I haven’t read about Syria in a few weeks, refugees still flee for their lives from the atrocities that continue to happen there. Somalian refugees still crowd into boats that cross the Mediterranean. Refugee camps in Nepal still host families who have been left stateless for two decades – the world has more or less forgotten them.

And why stop there? In Honduras more than a dozen people are murdered every day. In the United States, mass shootings erupt often enough to feel like a pattern. Around the world, violence and hatred against women and ethnic and religious minorities form a slower and subtler massacre that doesn’t prompt the same outpouring of support.

But compassion comes from a bottomless well. Praying for France does not detract from anyone’s prayers for these other tragedies; on the contrary, prayers nearly always prompt more and greater prayers, more and greater action.

Anger or judgment against those expressing pain, even if it's only changing a profile photo on Facebook, deadens our own feelings, holds our own hand to the fire.

“They can’t feel anything.” Now I remember the page in my Storybook Bible where Jesus heals the men with leprosy. They were wrapped up in bandages, almost like Lazarus stumbling out of the tomb a few pages later. “They have no feeling in their body,” I remember my mother explaining, “So when their foot gets hurt they keep walking on it and that makes the hurt worse. But then Jesus healed them and made them feel again.”

This violence is terrifying. This violence is senseless, and I use the word “senseless” as if any murder makes sense. These reports would be easier to read if my senses were deadened. They would be easier to ignore. If you feel nothing you can smile as your skin blisters, keep walking though every step cripples you more.

As a global body, we should welcome the pain we feel, knowing it is a signal to react as quickly and decisively as the girl pulls her hand from the stove. 

It is empathy, feeling others' pain, that should compel us to donate talents and time and money to counter hate and violence from our immediate neighborhoods all the way to our extremities on other parts of the globe. But more than that, it is love.

It takes a brave love to withstand this pain day after day, to resolve to not let ourselves become numb to it. We will be exhausted by this. There will be days where we think that we cannot continue.

But feeling, even pain, especially pain, is what it means to be healed.

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