Maybe redemption has stories to tell
Maybe forgiveness is right where you fell
Where can you run to escape from yourself?
Where you gonna go? Salvation is here.
–Switchfoot, “I Dare you to Move”
I’ve had a very hard time following politics lately. I know, it’s ugly out there and I’m definitely not the only one who wants to permanently delete Facebook. But the thing is–that’s never bothered me before. In fact, the uglier it was the more I wanted to run into the fray and put in my two cents. Not in real life, mind you, just on the internet where I could walk away from my computer and pretend I hadn’t just pissed a bunch of people off who I might see tomorrow. My favorite fights were with people I wouldn’t see tomorrow anyway.
And last year, I was really, really into politics. And it started because I saw that little three year old Syrian immigrant boy wash up on the beach in Turkey. And all it really took was one solid look into what was going on in the world for me to end up sitting in a corner crying and hugging my own son and shaking over the horror of it. I could feel what that boy’s parents felt. Or at least imagine it, whether I wanted to or not. I followed up with reading more stories of beheadings, babies hanging from trees, and the Arabic letter nun written on houses. Bad stuff guys. More than I had let myself be aware of in awhile.
So I wanted to save the world. Ok, I knew I couldn’t do that. But I wanted to do whatever I could from my rather shut-in position as a stay-at-home Mom in NYC. Which mostly meant making people aware and praying. I felt helpless, but I wasn’t content to do nothing at all.
Follow that up with the attacks in Paris by Muslim extremists. And the moment that happened I knew what was coming–people were going to be even more afraid of letting in Muslim refugees than they had been. The children washing up on beaches was going to increase. I grew frantic. And then it happened–one of my family members, my cousin Sam, made comments against the importation of refugees.
We argued on the internet for the next year. Or really, if I’m being honest, every time he posted something I thought was wrong–I called him on it. Relentlessly. I corrected, criticized, and made it basically unpleasant for him to post anything against my own political views. I wasn’t nasty, but I wasn’t empathetic for a moment. Why should I be? He was wrong. That was all that mattered.
And then, in the middle of the election and Trump vs. Clinton craziness, and after several exchanges between me and Sam about who was more evil, it happened. Sam died. Suddenly. On the way to his birthday party in a motorcycle accident. On the way to the house he grew up in that I had always visited every summer as a child. He was just gone.
After I got the call from Dad I went out into the field next to our house and did something I never do. I swore. A lot. I screamed it. I scared a few hikers on the pathway nearby. And then I swore some more. It came from somewhere deep in my soul I didn’t know was there. I try so hard to be good. To be fair. I do everything I can to do what is right. And there I was, feeling like I couldn’t have gotten anything more wrong in the entirety of my life. It was so incredibly and horribly unfair. After I was done screaming I just laid down with my face mushed into the grass feeling the awfulness in total silence.
And then I walked quietly back to my house and told Dad that I was flying to my Aunt and Uncle’s house as soon as I could. I didn’t know if I would be wanted, or needed at all. But I told him I’d sleep under a rock for just the mere chance of being helpful.
And so I spent a week sitting in Sam’s childhood home, learning about the life of my cousin who I hadn’t really talked to since we were kids. I met his girlfriend and learned about their life together. I met his friends and heard so many stories about Sam, a joyful man who protected his friends and worked hard and with integrity. I listened, and then I listened some more. And I died a little every time I realized just how much I didn’t know about Sam, even though we were family. I was horrified about how little I had tried to learn about him in the middle of needing to be angry at someone, of being convinced that my so differently opinionated family didn’t have a place for me any more.
And for a week they welcomed me into their house, told me stories, and cried with me. I was still family. I was still welcome. I was overwhelmed to find something remaining from a childhood I thought was completely gone.
And I watched my Aunt and Uncle embrace the girl who hit and killed Sam. I watched them do it without reservation or hesitation. I don’t know if I would have actually expected them to do otherwise, but there was something so breathtaking about watching them give a girl back her life like that. With complete generosity and humility of spirit.
And just like that, Sam’s death gave me back so much of my own life. I didn’t deserve it, but there it was. I couldn’t be angry anymore. Not like before. I’m still devastated about children washing up on beaches. I still want to help. But maybe, just maybe, people who don’t have the same eyes for global trauma and politics are often heroes in their own backyard. Maybe they are giving life to their neighbors and friends right where they are. Can I even say that I am doing that?
I’m not saying all people who voted for Trump are good. Or that I have changed my political opinions. I’m saying that I feel like I don’t know anything anymore. I’m not entirely sure if my lack of desire to engage the political conversation anymore is a result of deep sadness, or maturity. Maybe it’s both. But I do know that I missed out on the opportunity to really know someone who was worth knowing. And that I have a serious hunch that no matter what it feels like sometimes, the mix of people, of selfishness and blindness, of good intentions and heroism–is exactly the same in people who voted for Trump as it is in those who didn’t. And truly good things can come out of truly awful things. And I have so little control over any of it. And I have a peace about all these things that I can’t explain.
So I’m devoting my time these days to trying to help people really see each other. To being a peace keeper. To becoming more than my personal opinions and a person who is gracious to people who are difficult to be gracious to. To making sure we keep in mind who we are really fighting against. And it’s not each other.
Nothing ever steals our ability to keep doing the right things that are in front of us. Nothing prevents us from carrying out compassion every day in small ways and calling our Senators and attending political marches. Nothing can prevent us from learning about and bonding so tightly to those with whom we disagree that we can’t help but move forward together. That goal is not dead. Don’t forget that we live in a country where not only are we not in total submission to our leaders (and in fact have many reasons to believe the opposite is still true), but we live in one where we do not have to sacrifice our relationships because of politics.
So forgive me if I seem shallower these days, or if I have less fight in me. It’s not apathy. I’m so afraid of being too hard or too soft all at once–but my gut says I have it right this time. I do know that now more than ever I am praying that we can all transcend the political situation we find ourselves in to make something new out of it that doesn’t seem possible now. None of that is at Donald Trump’s feet, or any political leader’s. And I refuse to move ahead by keeping my eyes on what I want to destroy, but instead I will keep them on what God is calling us to create, and how we are called to be a part of his great story of redemption.
I haven’t forgotten about the little Syrian boy on the beach who reminds me so much of my own sons. But now I see all boys in that little boy, including Sam. Truth and reality are so much greater than the tiny parts that I am able to focus on with my limited ability. I simply cannot see the whole of it. I will no longer deny the humanity and lives and stories of the people around me who are just seeing the world from a different vantage point, though I may not yet know them. God can judge. He calls us to love–lavishly, unreservedly, inconveniently, and sometimes with great sorrow and sacrifice.