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Big Enough Hearts

November 14, 2015

Rain has been steady here for several days.  Not drizzle.  Not heavy, flooding rain.  Just a steady downpour.

Alan called on his way home from work to tell me that Paris, my favorite city in the world, was under siege.  Multiple coordinated attacks.  When I went to Google News to learn more, the first link was about Paris.

The third link was about multiple suicide bombings in a suburb of Beirut.  Deaths in Kabul, Baghdad, and other cities around the world didn’t make the Google News headlines page.

My Facebook feed lit up with prayers for Paris, support for France, red-white-and-blue over Eiffel Towers.

Then more posts (including mine):  about supporting all victims of terror, not just European or First World ones.

Still more followed:  about how supporting victims of one violent act does not exclude other victims.  Which is totally true and which I didn’t consider in my immediate response (violating my own rule of not spouting off on social media before thinking).

Saddened maybe beyond all that we have to numb ourselves to deaths that feel farther from our own existence.  Otherwise I would be crying all the time.  But still.  No innocent life lost to violence is ever less valuable than another.  No matter where or when.

There has been so much heartbreak in my own relatively small circle of family and friends this past month.

Can our hearts be big enough for all this sadness and hurt?

As Janelle Hanchett so eloquently pointed out in her recent post, we’re all just trying to keep it together.  How can we manage parenting and caretaking and working and all of it–All the Things–when our hearts are weighted down?

There is pervasive fear.  And the sense of nowhere being safe.  Yesterday, in a fever-induced daze, I had a what-if scenario:  what if Nicole took my kids to a crowded playground and some crazy person opened fire?  I had to check the Seattle Times on my phone to make sure it was all in my head.

Some people in this world can’t even go to the grocery store without wondering if they’ll come back home or have their blood among scattered pears and bread and rubble.

Secretly (well, not so secretly now) I want a Grinch experience for people who purposely cause harm to others.  A cartoonish, heart-expanding, I-just-realized-the-errors-of-my-ways moment where they make up for the damage they’ve almost done, and are welcomed Who-heartedly back into the community.

Not realistic.  And so I feel lost, incapable of understanding or stopping this violence and terrorism.  A college friend once told me during my first year of teaching, “You don’t have to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders.”  But I do sometimes anyway.

I’m not a warrior.  Or a politician.  Or a poet.  I have no great political or financial power.

But that does not mean I am powerless.

Maybe my power lies in raising kids who have empathy (to combat trends like this article, detailing how children raised in religious households show less empathy than their non-religious peers).  To have them resolve some of their own conflicts in this way:

Kid 1:  Sibling, why did you bap me with the book?

Kid 2:  ‘Cause I’m mean.

Kid 1:  You’re not mean.  Just sometimes you make bad choices.

Me, prompting:  Kid 2, what do you need to say?

Kid 2:  I’m sorry I bapped you.

My power lies in teaching my students poetry like Sherman Alexie’s “On the Amtrak from Boston to New York City” and Judith Ortiz Cofer’s “Latin Women Pray” and novels like Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, and discussing perspective and what makes Truth-with-a-capital-T.

Our collective power comes from things like celebrating the Feast of St. Martin.  St. Martin of Tour was a Roman soldier, known for his kindness–“a friend of children and patron of the poor” according to Wikipedia.  Legend has it that St. Martin was walking in a snowstorm, discovered a beggar freezing, and cut his own cloak in half to give to the beggar.  Later that night he had a vision of Jesus wearing the other half of the cloak.

It is a celebration of sharing, and many European cultures have a tradition of walking with lanterns and singing to commemorate the end of the harvest and beginning of winter.  Our kids’ preschool has the kids make paper lanterns, and we walked part of the path of Green Lake, singing songs about lights in the darkness, and then the teachers lit moon lanterns which blazed their fire up into the twilight sky.

My power comes from stomping in puddles on our flashlight walk in the rain tonight.  Clutching a heavy flashlight in chilled and wet hands, watching my kids run-waddle in their rain pants and raincoats through our reasonably safe neighborhood.  Grateful and sad.  Holding space.  Sending a flashlight beam through the dark and cold and rain to the City of Light and beyond.

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