I think sometimes, that I will always be the kid I was at about eight. I will have the thoughts and experiences of my grown up self, but will still be hauling around the expectations, the lessons, the baggage that comes from just living.
My things are jumbled up in a rusty wagon, cardboard suitcase and vinyl records, roller skates and a youth study bible. Things like the shape of my grandma’s fingernails, the dimples in my shoulder blades, guilt complexes and rooster collecting all wrapped haphazardly in brown paper. And here I am, this girl in grass stained jeans and dusty shoes, sideways pony tail, walking down the road in Conklin on a hot summer day, pulling this wagon.
I attended a conference on conflict management this weekend. And in between learning about concepts like triangulation and how conflict can sometimes be healthy, in between worrying about my people at the zoo and all the things I needed to get done that didn’t get done today there were odd moments of grace.
There was Jess asking if she could save me a plate when I drove across town to deliver my people to the zoo instead of staying for lunch. There was being in a vehicle that didn’t immediately do somersaults when coming to a complete stop in the space of about two car lengths, Kaia asking if people in Ohio talk differently than we do or use different money. The guys at Bambinos calling my girls bambina, and my delight in explaining to them what that means.
There is Casey telling me how the girls played in a park on the Ohio River, played. No devices, no bickering, just running and pretending, engaging with each on a level that doesn’t occur very often anymore, as Kaia walks down the gloomy middle school hallways of a not teenager, earbuds permanently connected to her head, and Avery is like Anna outside the bedroom door on Frozen singing to her sister, we used to be best buddies, and now we’re not, I wish you would tell me why….
There was Cindi and Karen playing tag (yes, tag) in the parking lot during a break in the lecture, and how they were playing at probably the same moment as my girls. Running in cold sunlight, experiencing the feeling of pursuit.
And then there was Paris.
The city of light bathed in blood. People lined up and shot, one by one, in a theater. I wonder what those toward the end of the line had time to think, if there is room for coherent thought in such a moment at the very end of all things. I wonder if there were sudden regrets, words left unsaid, lives left unlived. I wonder the same about the men who blew themselves up, who thought themselves martyrs to a great cause or system of belief; and I wonder how you drive someone up that path of strapping plastic explosives to their person, of knowing there are only so many hours left.
I wonder where the redemption is found in such violence, in the fear that ensues. Who will rise from the dead?
I wonder if christians living and writing and building a church after the death of Jesus wondered the same thing. I wonder if they remembered conversations and suddenly those conversations made sense, or meant something entirely different than those men thought at the time. I wonder if they wondered, for a time, what it had been for, the why of it, just as we do now.
It was an explosive situation, one faction of people pitted against another. As is the case with us humans, it ended in blood, innocent people dead; and for what? I wrote about my experience of the Jesus story, atonement theories, of believing to my core that I serve a God that cannot be comprehended or known. One person in our group today commented on a chart we were shown, now put a gigantic dollar sign on top of all of these factors. And I said, and a hammer.
Because society and people and communities and churches and families all contribute to the anxiety of each other, we all bring our own experiences and our own points of view, and on the one hand this is helpful, and on the other it is not. We allow history, systems, to repeat over and over again because somewhere we cannot seem to break the cycle.
We talked about how people and communities who are dysfunctional work on a pain management basis. How much discomfort can be handled or afforded? At what point must the medicine be administered? For people and communities in hard situations the answer was that the discomfort must be avoided at all costs, even the cost of our authentic selves.
How much discomfort then, do we need before we act? Is taking off our shoes in a public place enough? Is dumping out the liquid gold of breast milk enough, throwing away lighters and grandpa’s pocket knife, not checking any luggage at all on a plane, answering why we have so many phones, strip searching old women. Where does it end? At what point do we decide that we have tried and tried to make peace, tried and tried to work around the obstacles of long lines at security checkpoints in airports, tried and failed to fight back… where does it end?
I don’t know. I don’t know this any more than I know all of the reasons that went into crucifying a man between two thieves on a hill for speaking out against everything that was, against methods of pain management tied up in laws.
How do we pacify people who will line people up in a theater and then shoot them? How do we find out what it is that they need and then give it to them? Is there a remedy, a pain killer, a concession? I don’t understand, at all, how to make something like this stop, because I don’t understand what the pain threshold is, and am honestly wondering if there even is one.
I thought today, as we talked about different parts of the brain, of the walkers on Walking Dead, how they are driven only by a need to eat and to survive, but that there is nothing left of the person who was before, no pain threshold, no remedy to be administered.
Finally, tonight I chatted with a cousin about an article that had recently been published about her and about the church, all the churches. I sent her the photo that is my little cover photo here and I said, if you come and visit it must be during the program year. And she said, I think I would like a service like that. Which is one where stunning girl children carry candles and crosses, where incense floats down and nests in our hair, surprising us hours later with a subtle cloud.
Tomorrow is another little death. Tomorrow we send off our beloved Deacon with a small party, back to Bogota. We hope he will come back to us in the spring, but for me, on the cusp, teetering back and forth between call and duty, to see a deacon in action has been a truly meaningful thing.
I would leave you with two things.
I left Grace Lutheran church at noon to collect my people and take them to the zoo, and the church has these bells that play hymns. The bells were playing Whispering Hope.
Soft as the voice of an angel, breathing a lesson unheard, hope with a gentle persuasion, whispers her comforting word: wait, til the darkness is over. Wait, til the tempest is done. Hope for the sunshine tomorrow, after the darkness is gone.
And another. Folks lined up to visit a zoo and a new aquarium, and my kids are there, these girls who see you and know you, and my husband. The sun is occluded by those big fall clouds and a cold wind rustles the leaves on the sidewalk. Gunfire breaks out. And men in masks run through the gates. A large and calloused hand takes two smaller ones, wonders where to run, how to keep these precious charges safe. And down the street I am driving a borrowed Subaru, blissfully unaware of the mortal danger my people are in.
And one more, people holding hands and standing in a line. Watching as one by one their numbers are diminished. A spray of blood.
We tried to keep the news from the children this weekend, in the car, and in a small hotel room. Kaia said this morning that Paris has been her favorite city, but that she never wants to go there now, she is too afraid.
Her sister, all seven years and three feet of her responded.
First, to Siri, show me the weirdest cats in the world.
Second, to her sister: that is so stupid. I’ll go with you, then you won’t be afraid.
And Kaia said, on the edge of knowing all things, oh Prim. (as she looked at me meaningfully)
Sister love is a powerful thing.
And I don’t know what to do about an enemy that has no threshold for pain. But the faces of the people in this photo make me see that there is hope, that the world depends upon them and how we react right now.
And if there is but a spark, surely it will grow to a mighty flame. Possibly our children will become redemption lived out, not on a cross, but in leaving fearless lives. Lives that cast aside all that we have allowed this world, over and over, to repeat.
“The masses never revolt of their own accord, and they never revolt merely because they are oppressed. Indeed, so long as they are not permitted to have standards of comparison, they never even become aware that they are oppressed.”
-George Orwell, 1984
“The Grey Pilgrim. That is what they used to call me. Three hundred lives of men I’ve walked this earth and now, I have no time…. Look to my coming, at first light, on the fifth day. At dawn, look to the east.”
JRR Tolkien, The Two Towers