Tuesday, November 17, 2015

What to do after the end of the world

I'm writing this on Monday evening. Until now, I've had no trouble thinking of topics to write about. I still have a few ideas, but I'm tired and sad because the world is awful and it took almost no time at all to politicize a tragedy. So the best I can do is share the words of the amazing writer Anne Lamott, which she posted on her Facebook page soon after the news of the attacks on Paris. (This was a time when FB was NOT "of the devil," as I like to joke.) She offers no pat answers but some comfort and hope.

For now, I can hold on to these small glimmers of hope. And I'm making an apple crisp for dessert--
which I almost never do--that we can eat with ice cream because sometimes comfort food is in order.

I wish there was a website we could turn to called, "What it means, What is True, and What to do." Lots of very tense religious people are going to insist that their Scripture answers all these questions.

That's nice.

Lots of them will try to hustle us into joining them in Vengeance World. As that had just been so helpful before, right?

So where do we even begin today? What do we do when it feels like we are all doomed, and the future will only be worse, and we can't remember anything that ever helped us come through? From high school philosophy, I remember that Francis Bacon wrote, "'What is Truth?' asked jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer." It seemed the ultimate truth, at sixteen years old.

But I think we can do better than that. We have shards of truth, and we can gather them up, bits of broken mosaic tile that shine.

We know that this is a very dangerous place, that we are an extremely vulnerable species, that Cain is still killing Abel.

We know that "Why" is not a useful question; and "Figure it out" is not a good slogan.

We know that the poor, the innocent, babies and the very old, always bear the brunt.

So where do we find grace and light? If you mean right now, the answer is Nowhere. It's like after a child dies. Grace always does bat last, and the light always overcomes the darkness--always, historically. But not necessarily later the same day, or tomorrow, after lunch. Wendell Berry told me 25 years ago, in Advent, the darkest shortest days of winter, "It gets darker and darker and darker, and then Jesus is born." But it is only November 13! It gets even darker.

What is the answer? Gandhi is almost always the answer. Jesus's love for the poor and refugees is the answer. Adding a bit of light and warmth to these cold dark days doesn't hurt. Candles are beautiful and bring a soup├žon of solace to our souls. People living on the streets could really use your old blankets and jackets.

Grace will always show up in the helpers, as Mr. Rogers' mother used to tell him in times of tragedy. But today, right now, if you have a nice bumper sticker that explains or makes sense of what happens in Paris, it's probably best if you keep that to yourself. It is definitely best that you not share it with me. It will cause me to get a tic in my eye and will guarantee that the next time I see you, I will run for my cute little life. Everyone in his or her right mind will. So how do we even know truth, in the midst of b.s. and lies?

What is true for me is that the shootings at Sandy Hook were the actual end of the world, evil or at least the most extreme mental illness made visible. There were no answers that day, the next day, the day after that. Well, you could go to certain web sites and Twitter posts, and I will not name names, and be told how stupid you were not to see that there was only one appreciate truth. Reload! But again, that was not helpful. What was helpful was that we stuck together in our horror, grief, anxiety and cluelessness. We grieved, we feared, we despaired, and raged, prayed; we reached out for any help at all; and these were appropriate responses. I am going to recommend that we do that today, and tomorrow. Wounds and trauma revealed were healed; eventually. Some of us couldn't eat at all, someone of us binged, some of us couldn't turn off the TV, some of us couldn't turn it on. Those were all appropriate. We felt like shit, and let some time pass, talked and stuck together. And day by day, we came through.

Talking and sticking together was the answer. It honest to God was. We were gentler, more patient and kind with each other. If people are patient and kind, that's a lot. It means something of the spirit is at work. For me, that is grace made visible. It doesn't come immediately, and it doesn't come naturally. What comes naturally is, Shoot the mo-fos. So when we could, after Sandy Hook, we paused, breathed, sighed, gasped at the rising numbers. Nothing changed legally, not one word, but we came through. Hearts were healed, imperfectly. People walked, lived fully, and even danced again, after bad psychic fractures that did not heal quite right, and that still hurt some days.

We will again, but it takes time. I so hate this! Hate this, hate this, hate this, and do not agree to this, but have no alternative, because it is Truth: it will take time. Today, we try to keep the patient comfortable--ourselves, our beloved, the poor.

We're at the beginning of human and personal evolution. Whole parts of the world don't even think women are people.

So after an appropriate time of being stunned, in despair, we show up. Maybe we ask God for help. We do the next right thing. We buy or cook a bunch of food for the local homeless. We return phone calls, library books, smiles. We make eye contact with others, and we go to the market and flirt with old or scary unusual people who seem lonely. This is a blessed sacrament. Tom Weston taught me decades ago that in the face of human tragedy, we go around the neighborhood and pick up litter, even though there will be more tomorrow. It is another blessed sacraments. We take the action and the insight will follow: that we are basically powerless, but we are not helpless.

I have no answers but know one last thing that is true: More will be revealed. And that what is true is that all is change. Things are much wilder, weirder, richer, and more profound than I am comfortable with. The paradox is that in the reality of this, we discover that in the smallest moments of amazement, at our own crabby stamina, at kindness, to lonely people who worry us, and attention, at weeping willow turning from green to gold to red, and amazement, we will be saved.

P.S. The apple crisp was delicious and it made my family happy. And I bought extra nonperishables to donate to the food drive at L's school. And I contacted a friend who's grieving a death and made plans to get together.

One small gesture at a time to combat despair. One candle at a time to light the darkness. 

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