Tuesday I sat at the computer, all geared up to let loose on my newest blog post. I sat staring at the blank page, considering. Usually some conversation or event is my Bunsen burner. It gives heat to a topic already simmering. Eventually the intensity is turned up and the words follow, as steam rises up because of the burner. But on Tuesday all I see is blankness: the cursor is blinking on my blank screen; my mind seems blank of any possible topics.
And then I remember the Friday evening news – a picture of a burnt child writhing in his pain and reaching out. “Oh honey,” I cried out and began to sob, the pounding emotion hammering my already hurting head, but really, what is that to the agony of that child? Was he reaching out, hoping to find the comfort of his mother’s hand? I pray she is near, but what if she too has been burned or poisoned or shot?
This is not what I want to write about.
Hoping to find inspiration in some of my other writings, I search through my “Writings” folder on my hard-drive. Eventually I give up unwilling to waste even more time. A round of yoga and a return to our daily schedule serve up no new ideas. Only that afternoon while enjoying the gorgeous late-summer weather do I begin to gain clarity. I journal about a petty problem and my lack of a blog post topic. I write about the burned child. Although I am not quite ready to turn up the heat, I begin to realize that picture in my head is my Bunsen burner. It won’t and can’t be ignored and all other possible ideas – the golden September or my daughter’s amount of homework – seem trivial, too light.
So I allow the intensity to increase. I go to bed with a topic simmering, hoping tomorrow the words can be the rising steam.
Months ago we welcomed Bishop Jean and his traveling companions to a Sunday morning church service. His stature was small, but the robe and bishop’s miter demanded a quiet respect. His face was warm and friendly, but darkened when he talked about the suffering in his country he loves so much. He took an extra moment with the children, making a point of getting down to their level as he asked about their names and ages. Being such a sweet man and dressed in such a fancy robe, my then three-year-old became convinced that this must be the bishop that brings candy to the children in Germany on December 6th. At the end of the church service he sang the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic, the language Jesus would have spoken. I was fascinated, even if at first it felt strange and foreign. I closed my eyes and soon felt the truth in his haunting, beautiful voice. It moved me to tears.
It is this man that I cry with and for when I hear the devastation reports. I remember his sweet face, and I wonder: how is he holding up? How many of his church family has he had to bury and mourn? Are the kidnappings still going on? How can he possibly keep the faith? But how can he possibly not? When he left us that Sunday morning, he looked at me pleadingly and said, “Please continue to pray for my country.”
These days everyone wants to know who really used the gift gas. Was it this side or the other; was it used improperly with horrible unwanted consequences. It seems so much is hanging on that one answer, but in the end, does it matter? I cannot believe that discovering the true perpetrator would lend any more legitimacy to more violence, to dropping bombs. The suffering is the same.
As we hear more news stories about the conflict and see more gut-wrenching pictures of what humans can do to each other, instead of becoming more engaged, we become hardened. Within the quantity we forget the individual. Maybe we turn the channel as soon as we see the headline thinking not that again. When we hear another number – 2 million refugees living in tent cities in neighboring countries – we might briefly shake our heads, think poor people and move on with our day. The numbers are too high and the tragedy is too far away.
But the heart of that little burned boy’s mama breaks just as yours or mine would. She asks herself how she will get through this next day as she watches her child suffer. Other mothers have had to bury their babies, say good-bye to those precious beings, probably asking why, oh why. Each and every death, each and every injury means tragedy in a family.
And this should be breaking our hearts. We should allow ourselves to be disturbed in our peaceful places, in our sunny afternoons with smiling, laughing children. Not because I think we should always walk around with sad faces and mourning clothes, although there is certainly enough suffering in the world to justify it. But when we open ourselves to the horrible pictures, to the tragedies of families, we make ourselves vulnerable to the humanness of the people around us. Instead of being wrapped up in our own dilemmas, we find a new perspective and are capable of reaching out beyond us. Suddenly the loneliness of the foreign woman speaks to us without words; the extra effort needed to visit our elderly neighbor doesn’t seem so big. And maybe this new perspective can help give us new eyes to see all that is good in our own lives.
I know it is not enough. I do not understand the situation, as I suspect most people (even those who think otherwise) don’t. As outsiders looking in, I’m afraid we cannot solve the problem for them, certainly not with more bombs and more fear. And it is sometimes overwhelming to know of so much suffering, and yet be so helpless. But as Bishop Jean asked me, I will continue to pray. And I will continue to remember that burned little boy and his mama, hoping they too can one day know peace.