June 21, 2015
I have mixed feelings about what is surfacing on my Facebook feed this week. I don’t want to turn away from what is there, nor from what is absent. I know that digital display doesn’t render emotion inauthentic; for many it is a vibrant, immediate, healthy mode of communication. Yet, I don’t trust myself to post any update that would not ring as tragically thin in the face of news that nine human beings have been gunned down in a Charleston church.
So I’m stepping back to write this, taking more time to consider all of the news items in recent memory and throughout history that have left me wishing I could move somewhere beyond speechlessly sad.
It is an ancient, timeless, present ache, this constant drumbeat of man’s inhumanity to man.
Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. So begins Jack Gilbert’s poem “A Brief for the Defense”.
Yet another poet, Robert Frost, famously summed up everything he’d learned of life in three words: it goes on. Indeed, this too is true.
W.H. Auden noted how suffering, disaster, and miracles always seem to take place with an audience too preoccupied to take notice. Be it the birth of Christ or Icarus’ fall from the sky, the old Masters teach us that the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse / Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
But what of these poetic verities? They can serve as a mirror or a prompt, pressing us to action in the face such enduring tests.
Certainly, to become paralyzed by the existence of terror, starvation, and injustice is not the answer. But is is equally horrid to imagine moving blissfully through bad news with the belief that it doesn’t touch us. There are lies which must be unfolded. We as a country cannot cloak ourselves as warriors for freedom and equality elsewhere, without staying vigilant to ensure that our people — including the ones in uniform — honor the principles that underpin our democracy.
Evil cannot be eliminated, but it must be rooted out and brought to justice. When the United States stands naked before all of its citizens, we must not avert our eyes. Jon Stewart’s scathing indictment cast a spotlight. I wish more of our national figures had such courage. I wish more of our best leaders had such large audiences.
Anger can be constructive. Too much can be destructive. Energy is best pointed in the direction where it can make a lasting difference. Each of us will decide when to fight and how to heal. If you don’t know, ask someone you trust. Ask someone who is deeply good. If you don’t have a friend like that, make one, become one.
Through it all, don’t forget to seek beauty, kindness, delight. That verse by Jack Gilbert goes on to shine a light of sorts.
To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil….
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
It ends with the image of a “we” gazing upon a sleeping island from a small ship in tiny port, one lone light burning, and concludes:
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.
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