I watched some raw video from the Boston Marathon yesterday, instead of just reading about it, which is what I’d intended to do, and so I heard the awful screaming of people in shock and dismay. The shaking voice of the man taking the video and the way his breath was shallow, and my own heart-rate went up listening to him. We all sound different in that state. I learned that the one and only time I watched the birth video a girlfriend took during my labor with my son, which was scary and violent and full of moments I wasn’t sure we were going to make it through. All you can hear after the birth is me sobbing and asking again and again, “Is he okay?” in a voice I do not recognize as my own. But it’s the exact same voice I heard yesterday in someone’s video footage and it went straight through my heart. Panic, fear, despair and shock take such a toll on us and we really are all the same in our humanness and vulnerability.
When things like this happen and we look around at the state of the world in general, it’s easy to say, “It’s just too much. Everything is broken and violent,” and to feel hopeless about it all. I went to a screening of a powerful film I’ve seen three times, “Children of War” by filmmaker Bryan Single. He spent the better part of three years in Northern Uganda, filming the work of Jane Ekayu (you can check out her website, childrenofpeaceuganda.com) and other counselors working with children who were abducted from their homes and forced to become soldiers of the Lord’s Resistance Army. They targeted children 5-15 years old because they’re the most tender and the easiest to control. I can’t tell you what these children have been through. Some were forced to kill their own family members. But human beings have an incredible capacity to forgive and heal and people like Jane who care and take action make all the difference in the world.
I realize when we see violence like this it’s natural to want to crawl into a hole or distract ourselves. I saw people yesterday getting angry at those expressing sympathy and bringing up other places in the world where violence is a way of life. One is no more or less distressing than the other. I experienced some of that myself in December, when I wrote about Sandy Hook Elementary and someone said there’s no reason to weep if it doesn’t affect you directly. It’s all direct. Sometimes people don’t feel the impact of how awful something is until it hits close to home; there’s no reason to have contempt for someone who suddenly realizes the heartbreak of violence and destruction. Realizing is the thing, whenever and wherever it happens. What’s happening in Iraq directly affects us all. And what’s happening in the Congo. Do you want to know the truth? It doesn’t matter where it’s happening. Borders are meaningless and something we’ve made up. Skin color is meaningless. We are one people on one planet, and we are all connected. The root of almost all of our problems is that we’ve separated ourselves from each other. If one of us is suffering, we are all suffering.
The thing is not to give up. Not to decide it’s broken and too much, and what can one person possibly do, anyway? You can’t fix everything, that’s for sure. But you can do something. I mean, anything, really. Any way you can extend some love and some hope and some care, matters. It can be the smallest thing. You can hold a door open for a stranger, that matters. You can let someone merge while you’re driving, that matters, too. You can treat everyone you encounter with kindness. If you feel really inspired, you can pick one organization and volunteer. Give your time and your energy and your heart. A secret thing you might not know is that spending your energy trying to uplift someone else will make you feel incredible. Like your life has some meaning and that won’t just be a feeling you have, that will be the reality. We can heal and we can care about each other, and we can impact the way the world around us looks and feels. But hatred won’t get us there. “Us vs. Them” won’t get us there. Demonizing people who are severely troubled or mentally ill won’t get us there, either. Focusing on what’s different won’t do it. But do you have any idea how much is the same? We all love our children. We all breathe the same air. We all have dreams and hopes and fears and nights we cry ourselves to sleep. We could all use a hand reaching out in the darkness sometimes. And we could surely use a lot of people who don’t give up and numb out. I think we have a whole bunch of them on this page.
Sending love to all of you, and to anyone, anywhere, who is suffering,