Monday, June 13, 2016

Looking for Compassion in a Broken World

In 1864 our country experienced the bloodiest battle of the Civil War: The Battle of Franklin held in Franklin, Tennessee. 

Somewhere in Texas, a family learned that their beloved son had been killed in the conflict. They packed up their belongings and took a covered wagon to retrieve his remains so he could be properly buried in Texas. Once they arrived in Tennessee, to their own surprise they had a change of heart.

They saw the cemetery with rows and rows of graves (from both sides). 23,000 men and boys died there, and the family didn’t expect to have the calm reaction they did. It wasn't an easy decision, but ultimately their son would remain with his regiment memorialized at the site where he lost his life fighting for freedoms. Freedoms I’m not sure I realize or appreciate.  

We are in a new war. Inside of our own country. Saturday night in Orlando, Florida, our sons and daughters danced with their own freedoms and with abandon on a dance floor that would soon become a battlefield. Parents didn’t get to say goodbye, or hang stars in their window. No one signed up and no one was drafted. But we are all on a battlefield. This plane I am on, the tall office tower I work in—someone, somewhere is designing a strategy to take these places that were safe for us and make them unsafe. Our battlefield is airborne, and being afraid of “catching terrorism” isn’t going to make it go away.

I’ve been living in fear a long time.

When I was a little girl I was afraid of everything: first tornadoes. Living in Tornado Alley in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I was so scared of tornadoes I would keep watch in the front yard on cloudy days, looking for mammary clouds, Then I was scared of the end of the world, then alien abduction, then cancer.  And now I am in the most fragile time of our history and our future not really sure how to feel. 

At a recent speech my friend Mina Chang from Linking the World gave us a sobering statistic: "It’s predicted that extremism will directly impact every person in America within the next 10 years”.

Why are we not freaking out?

And clearly that’s not the right response either, but I worry than I exist in my reaction to Orlando somewhere between distraught and helpless, enraged and complacent. Is it the false-gratification of social media? Has my life been so safe and so comfortable that I can’t even exist in a fear and concern that truly motivates me to act?

Well I signed this petition, and I shared it, too, so I must be making a difference.

Maybe if I change my profile picture to #withorlando, others will do the same.

Maybe I should write a blog post.

Cities are doing it too: “profile pics” of buildings awash in rainbow LEDs, flags at half-mast, Paris loves Orlando, and New York, Dallas, too. We are with you, Orlando, but are we really?

I’ve prayed a few times today. I’ve also caught myself staring off into blank space, thoughts flown from the place I was to the victims, the responders, the caregivers, the mothers, the fathers, the city: what is was like inside of Pulse: dark and confusing, unreal. I’ve watched a little news—and that was more than enough.

Last night as the Tony’s concluded, the lyrics from Hamilton’s The Schuyler Sisters put a rock solid pit in my stomach:

Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now!

History is happening in Manhattan and we just happen to be

In the greatest city in the world.

And those 49 (or is it 50) beautiful souls are not so lucky, are they? I don’t blame The American TheatreWing's Tony Awards. Those event organizers had their hands full with producing a show in the paradox of joy and grief.  But really—maybe a moment of silence at the close of the show would have been the action we needed at the end rather than a reminder that we are lucky. And alive. And I am saying this as a huge fan of Hamilton.

And so it is—the second day after a horrible day. And how long with this stick with us? This ache of sadness: the one that turns into something different? Will the “different” that we forget and go back to “normal”. There is a price for forgetting bad times. 

Or will it be that someone organizes a lecture on what it means to be a Muslim, or sends a care package to a hospital in Florida? Will we meet in small groups and talk about how we really can “be with Orlando?”. 

What compassionate action can I take that will alleviate (even in the smallest way) the suffering of others? Now?

Hopeless isn’t in my vocabulary so it has to be something. There has to be something I can do –I can’t take a covered wagon across the country to honor these fallen heroes, but I can do something about it in my own life: make tomorrow matter more that it was going to before I woke up Sunday morning. Until then I will look for love and light in the darkest places. And I know you’re here with me, too.

What passion in us, besides one motivated by fear will make us patriots again? Where we are living not in fear, but in a new awareness of the world: a world we are all creating together. A world where fear and hate have become replaced with love and compassion. I can choose to live this way, not standing out in front of my house looking for clouds that look like they might become tornadoes, but finding a peace inside--the peace that true patriots know.