The week started out with a constant, steady stream of reporting and speculation on the bombs that went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Three were killed, including a child, and hundreds were severely injured and lost limbs. Then after months of painful debate, Congress decided that in spite of the will of its constituents, the high rates of gun murders in this country are worth preserving and protecting. Not long after that, a fertilizer plant in the city of West, Texas exploded, causing massive destruction. Oh, and a poison-laced letter was sent to the president.
So if you’re into the senseless deaths of innocent people, this is your kind of week.
I am most certainly not into the senseless deaths of innocent people, and I’ll bet you aren’t, either. In fact, I’m not really into the sensible deaths of guilty people. I just want to live in a world that is safe and supportive, where children can play and grow and everyone has enough to eat and has productive work to do and can expect to be respected in turn for respecting others.
That world doesn’t exist, though.
Every blogger and meme-crafter wants to be the person whose statement of hope and encouragement goes viral. I suppose it comes from a mix of empathy and compassion and the desire to provide comfort and inspiration, as well as the selfish desire to be recognized for good words and powerful exhortations.
Unfortunately, we can’t all be Patton Oswalt or Mr. Rogers’ mom. And today, honestly, I don’t even feel like trying. Because at some point, I guess, we all just run out of things to say. When I posted about the Newtown shootings in December, I was trying desperately to find something to be joyful about in the midst of the Advent season. When I posted about Amendment One last spring, I had the naïve belief that my words might actually make a difference in the outcome. Today I have nothing. It just feels to me like there’s nothing left to say. It’s a shitty world full of evil and it doesn’t matter if good people outnumber bad people or if there are helpers at every tragedy. I’m sick of having to outnumber bad people; I’m tired of living in a world that so urgently needs helpers. Even if 90% of the world is good and wants to be a force for change and growth, the other 10% always finds a way to fuck it up. That’s how chaos works. By its very nature, that’s what evil is.
My daughter is taking swim lessons. She loves it. She loves it so much that she floats on her back in the bathtub as the water drains out. She doesn’t know that there are people in this world who think it meaningful to blow arms and legs off strangers. She doesn’t know that there are people who gladly profit off the sales of tools whose sole purpose is to kill. She doesn’t know that there are sick people who would exploit her body for profit and pleasure. She doesn’t know that there are evil people in this world who would murder her for no reason. She likes to float.
She’s not old enough yet for me to need to have those conversations about why terrible things happen in this world. That time will come (I hope). I don’t know what I’ll say to her; maybe by then I won’t be feeling so disheartened and I can come up with a beautiful meme-worthy expression of faith in the goodness of humanity. In the meantime, I suppose all there is to do is to keep trying to stay afloat.
That’s what it feels like to be a parent sometimes, and it’s not unlike what it feels like to be a helper in the midst of anyone’s tragedy. There’s nothing else to do except to keep your head above water. Every morning the alarm goes off and I get out of bed and I push through the mundane because there’s a measure of comfort in it. The water is rapidly draining from the bathtub and it won’t be long before we find ourselves lying cold and naked on a cold slab. Until that happens we just try to float on what little water is left and maybe we have a moment or two of feeling free and calm.
Last night as I tucked my sweet little girl in to bed, she asked where Mommy was. I told her Mommy was at a meeting at church.
“It’s just you and me,” she said.
And for that brief moment, it was just her and me. No explosions, no murders, no blood on sidewalks, no despair. For one sweet minute we just floated together.
Evil and chaos will never be vanquished. That’s just fact, folks. But neither will they ever be completely victorious. There’s no grand triumph; there’s just the quiet defiance that comes in putting one foot forward. It isn’t much, but it’s what we got. For just a moment here or there, we can feel weightless and float together.