We were outside tonight when it turned cool. A breeze pushed off the humidity while the sun filtered through the trees and the light danced around our patchy yard. I was weeding a bit in the garden, puzzling over my puny pepper plants and marveling at the discovery of a four inch green bean on a plant that’s not much taller. The kids were running around with their neighbor friend, all of them in diapers as they splashed in the kiddie pool and traded trikes and dragged tiny lawn chairs around the patio. We chatted with our neighbor and made plans for more landscaping in our shared yard and looked after each other’s children. It was a snapshot of the best summer has to offer: time for rest, cooling off, nurturing relationships, and coaxing life from the ground.
We came inside for dinner and Drew bathed the kids and then we all cuddled together in our great big bed. The smell of lavender and chamomile bubble bath on their skin and their wet hair and the weight of their bodies on mine as we snuggled down under sheets had me full to the brim with joy and peace at being in-this-beautiful-moment with them and their silliness and laughter. They smacked big kisses on our cheeks and lips and blew raspberries on our flabby bellies and begged for tickles and I ate up every moment.
And then, after we put them to bed I scrolled through facebook and came upon a sobering video (put out by buzzfeed, no less) about the culture of fear and violence we have grown up in, specifically through the mass shootings that have defined our childhood, adolescent and young adulthood. He makes a plea at the end not for shares or likes but for action, for millennials to reach out to political leaders and communicate our longing for a different country. One that moves beyond partisan talking points and towards actual flourishing.
And then before I could process all the feelings I have about that, I glanced down and saw the news about the suicide bombings in Istanbul. 36 dead. 140 or more wounded. And I’m overwhelmed with the rush of so many feelings (fear, guilt, anger, shock, apathy) before settling on heartbreak. Heartbreak for a world rife with violence. Heartbreak for families checking in for vacations and visits to family and ordinary business trips. People waiting to greet loved ones returning home. All of them now casualties in the wake of this hideous violence.
I think about my small life, safe and sheltered from the effects of coups or rebel armies or terrorist groups. There are no drone strikes or armies marching through my neighborhood. No suicide bombers at my grocery store or church or airport. It’s just me and my little family, playing in the yard, coaxing food from the earth mostly as a hobby (we have four well stocked grocery stores within two miles), bathing our kids in freaking organic bubble bath. It is at once everything I could hope for and also everything I am ashamed about. Why was I born in this country and not in Turkey or Afghanistan or Syria? Why am I not one of the refugees carrying her possessions and children on her back while I put as many miles as possible between myself and the terror-torn country I used to call home? Why am I not among those who must weigh the risk of death and the need to fill her pantry, feed her family? Why am I not a woman from a small Syrian village, forced into ‘marriage’ with an ISIS fighter?
I teeter on the edge of this fatalism, willing away the beauty before me because of the evil elsewhere, an elsewhere far far away from here. But no. In these dark days we must all claim the goodness wherever it can be found. When we meditate on what is love and joy and peace we can reorient our lives towards it and extend it to others. Even on the darkest of days.
Fear is cheap. Easy. And ultimately, fleeting. Hope is like a small flame against the darkness, a single candle lighting one and then another, each reaching out to spread light and then all of the sudden everything is illuminated and the faces of those who nurture the light are shining brightest of all.
Tonight, I weed my green and growing garden for you, Turkey. Tonight I spent time getting to know my neighbor a bit better and I have been changed by hearing her story of hard work and love of family and choosing to persevere through hard times. Tonight I am collecting my thoughts and writing them down rather than numbing them with tv or distracting myself with endless scrolling through posts on social media. These are small things, but I believe these smalls acts of human flourishing, of goodness, they will enable me to extend my flame to another. And maybe if we all reach out just a little bit further than we thought possible, we’ll light the darkest corners of this weary planet.
Maybe you’ve seen this video circulating over the last few weeks. In it, former CIA agent Ammaryllis Fox reflects on her 10 years working on secret ops in the middle east. She makes a plain and powerful case for empathy – that if we want anything to change (really change) we have to find a way to listen to our enemy. To see their humanity. This feels like a really foolish thing to say on the heels of another terrorist attack. What terrorist deserves our empathy? But maybe it’s the kind of foolishness that dares to imagine something bigger than us vs them. Something beyond fear. A world of light.
It might sound like a silly optimism, this longing for a world where no person is so desperate or broken that they believe killing others is the only way to bring fullness of life. It sounds more than a bit childish. Incredibly naive.
But I think of my children and the world we are giving them and I can think of no greater ambition.
“But the truth is that when you talk to people who are really fighting on the ground, on both sides, and ask them why they’re there, they answer with hopes for their children” – Amaryllis Fox