This is how much of a mess I am right now: a few days ago I was driving and a red pick-up in the next lane over started to switch lanes and then wildly swerved back again to avoid slamming into the Honda that was already there. Blind spot, I’m guessing. We’ve all been there. I was the car behind these two. The car that almost got sideswiped sped up and got out of there. The driver who was trying to change lanes, now running out of space before we turned to cross the bridge, signaled. So I slowed way down to let him in–I was already going slower from that cold sweat down my spine when I thought the cars right in front of me were going to crash. But I definitely went out of my way to let him in and he knew it. After he changed lanes, he stuck his full-sleeve tattooed arm out the window to acknowledge the kindness.
And I got teary.
His simple acknowledgement of my act, a tiny little drip of decency in a raging hurricane sea of hostility, and I choked up.
After my last post, which was a touch serious, I intended to come back with something light-hearted. It’s high time I did a post on disc golf. But the chill out post won’t come, even though I know we’re at the point in the plot where we desperately need a breather and some comic relief. Kim has worked 14-hour days the last couple, and when she describes what she’s going to have to pull off to teach this year, it sounds like two full-time jobs. The freaking NBA protested the police shooting of Jacob Blake. No playoff Wednesday or Thursday. I was trying to express how overwhelmed I felt with this latest shooting–and the shooting after that, a 17-year-old killing two, injuring a third–when the WNBA, NBA, as well as some MLB and MLS teams, brought their games to a screeching halt to defend and advocate for black lives.
I’m profoundly encouraged to see this because these are people with a major platform and powerful voices. If you hope for non-violent protests, these are the epitome of speaking up non-violently.
Of course, there’s much more than this going on. In case it slipped by you, we’re in an election year. As of today, 184,000 have died from COVID-19, a horrific number which is still likely underreported. Somehow arguments against wearing masks to prevent its spread continue.
“Look around, look around at how lucky we are
To be alive right now.” You know, from Hamilton.
In 2020, it’s tempting to sing that sarcastically. But then with so many dying of this virus, that feels like sacrilege, doesn’t it? The pandemic began raging in the U.S. in March. It’s only August. My friend Luis survived it but his wife Connie describes
It’s been a month since Luis came back home after his ordeal of 103 days in the hospital-rehab isolation venture due to COVID-19. His days are mostly spent in bed due to the ulcer wound that continues to heal. He still has no sensation in his feet, and unable to walk yet.
Luis is younger than I am. We keep praying for him and his family.
I have a friend who is an ICU nurse. She just gave me the update on her hospital.
We are able to care for 16-18 patients, but it is a strain on our staffing to do so long term. We are attempting to hire experienced ICU nurses, and we have 8 nurses in the residency program training to become an ICU nurse but that takes 3 months. Our nurses are working overtime, and we have currently acquired the most traveling nurses that we have ever had. Travelers are an expensive way to go because they cost the hospital much more than hired staff. (The hospital pays the nurse and the travel company). We currently have 14 or 15 travelers! Normally, we hope to have none, but occasionally have hired 2-4. This current trend is unprecedented. It is a good thing I live in an attractive place to work and play, so we can attract travelers to our area. I am sure some areas in the country struggle with attaining travelers.
This is a response I got to my last post. Pay attention.
I have noticed that I am thinking about death much more lately. Some of that probably has to do with me and many friends being in our 70s, 80s. Feeling less and less time, Your words help me a lot. And this upcoming election scares me to death. I have actually found myself thinking of how to leave life if 45 wins. But then your words help me feel love for my family, friends, and associates. And I smile. I pare down the size of my world. Then I can handle that.
Like I said, I couldn’t find the humor. We’re in crisis and I’m not the only one feeling it. So when a stranger acknowledged me, just that simple arm-wave, the universal signal for “Thanks,” I got emotional.
Jerry Falwell, Jr. resigned “under duress” as President of Liberty University and I think about how many heard him declare Trump is “the Christian’s dream president.” He’s going to receive a severance of $10.5 million. How many Christians did he impact with his actions, his words, his legalism, with his unreserved support of this administration? How many who aren’t Christians took his words and behaviors as speaking for all Christians?
It’s so much right now. Nicaraguans are still poor, in fact poorer than ever, and I still want to remind people and speak for my friends, the land that will always also be our home country, a place and people we love. But we have these crises exploding around us. The derecho in Iowa, people trying to pick up the pieces. Hurricane Laura hitting Texas and Louisiana. We’re praying and holding our breath, watching reports come in.
Perhaps most upsetting, for every issue I just named there is a pitched battle raging among us, with the possible exception of Hurricane Laura.
In contrast to the driving incident, that same outing I stopped by the local mall on my way home because I
‘m a mall rat desperately needed the restroom. Twenty feet from it, an employee told me, quite harshly, “The mall is closed. You need to go the main exit and leave. Now.” I wasn’t the only non-employee still there, by far. It wasn’t two hours after closing. And I go to that mall so rarely that I don’t actually know their closing time.
“You’re ugly and your mother dresses you funny!” I did not say that to him, but the urge came welling up, hard. Now come on, Mike. He’s an employee mopping the floor after the mall is officially closed. Yes, he could have spoken nicer to me, but he has every right to want to go home from work when it’s time. And it’s not his fault how his mother dresses him. I spent my drive home (this was my second failed attempt to stop for a bathroom) uncomfortable and working through the steps of putting myself in his shoes. Because to do to others as we would have them do to us, we have to identify and empathize. Getting angry is easier than identifying and empathizing. SO much easier.
Here we are. Small acts, not even necessarily of kindness but simple civility, make me cry. Small acts of incivility hit harder than they should–than they normally would, if I can even remember back to what “normal” felt like. I read about people getting angry at being asked to wear a mask and physically attacking the requester, whether a teenage employee or a stranger. I want to judge the heck out of them–and I do think that’s a horrible thing to do–but I’m also aware that I, personally, am running on approximately zero margin. I’m not excusing horrible acts or awful decisions; I’m acknowledging that we all have more going on right now.
I have. I recognize both of these tiny incidents as symptoms to which I must pay attention.
So here are my takeaways:
1)It’s right to react strongly to injustice and horrors going on around us. I’m not feeling bad that I’m feeling bad about all this. When I stop caring, I’ll worry. I’m questioning anyone who doesn’t carry these things heavily. Knowing how to retain peace and centeredness in turmoil is not the same as indifference.
2)That means we have to increase our self-care, too. As my friend described, we may have to pare down our world. If we can’t handle all that’s going on, we must make healthy choices to step back and breathe, increase our capacity for what we must handle, limit or mitigate the damage we’re taking if at all possible (not always the case), and, in my humble opinion, keep speaking up and standing up.
3)How do we keep loving in the midst of this? It seems as if people are getting worse. Behaving worse, attacking more viciously, reasoning even poorer or less (which frankly I didn’t think possible), and somehow nevertheless more convinced of their rightness and righteousness in all of these. And I mean it looks like this to folks on both sides of the political spectrum, looking across the divide. I know with absolute certainty I’m not the only one feeling “those people” are harder to love right now. Therefore, we need a soundly biblical understanding of “love” to keep loving right now. Love does not mean pretending that evil is not evil. Even forgiveness demands calling sin and darkness what they are and calling them into the light. Love never means calling evil good. Love does not mean turning away from sin and choosing harmony over truth. “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” –MLK Jr. If we can follow this truth in love, seeking God’s Shalom through loving our neighbor while confronting injustice…
Oof. It’s exhausting. I’m emotionally stretched to my limit. I know that. I want to acknowledge that. I want to respect my own limits and yours. I believe everything I just wrote, I will try to live this, and I’m exhausted.
This is all I’m telling you today. Many of us feel exhausted. If you roll your eyes and call me a “snowflake,” that’s fine (especially if I don’t hear you). But if you can relate, I’m offering you this: love is still the right path. I know it’s ridiculous to get teary when a stranger just arm-out-the-window thanks you for letting him merge. But trying to listen to God’s Spirit, I took that to mean small acts of love mean even more right now.
Yesterday, I was driving a little fast and then saw a boy, maybe nine, standing with his bike at a crosswalk. I stopped abruptly, which inspired the truck coming from the other direction to stop even more abruptly. The kid looked nervous and hustled across before either of us ran him over. So I rolled down my window and called out to him, “Good job!” smiled, and gave him a thumbs up. Safely on the opposite sidewalk, he smiled back and returned my thumbs up. Small acts mean more now, I’m convinced. Loving others while we’re near our breaking point (or feel that we are) is still where we encounter God. Loving our enemies when they have doubled down and committed themselves to enemy-like behavior will always be the path of life. If by some miracle you are reading my blog and disagree with all my positions and think of me as your enemy (and maybe God’s), well, then this applies between you and me.
This isn’t the light, comic-relief, here’s-a-breather post I had in mind, at all, but I want to make this statement. Some things we have to say not because we’ll change others by saying them but because not saying them will change us. I’m not going to lose my soul in all this. I’m not going to become or give in to the hate I’m beholding right now. I know people deny that it is hate, and maybe it’s fear masquerading as hate. That’s not for me to judge. I just know I’m not going there. Grace still applies and I’m still loved by Jesus in spite of all the bad stuff I think and say and do. I’m not righteous, I’m saved by grace, and I refuse to let myself believe that I am good and others are evil. I refuse to turn a blind eye.
“I have foresworn myself. I have broken every law I have sworn to uphold, I have become what I beheld and I am content that I have done right!”
shouts Elliot Ness in The Untouchables. Great line, strong movie, but no. Absolutely not. I also refuse to fight against hate with hate and let myself become the hate I stand against.
As Bono sang,
They say that what you mock
Will surely overtake you
And you become a monster
So the monster will not break you
I’m encouraged that I get teary at minuscule responses. I’m glad God’s spirit still moves in me to offer children affirmation when I can. Many of my thoughts and inclinations right now are not encouraging. I mean, genuinely concerning. You may see some of those in yourself, too.
But God is with us and, by God’s grace, we will not become what we behold. We will keep trying to speak–and live–truth in love.
“Be imitators of God and walk in love, as Christ loved us.” These words have never sounded more concrete and tangible to me, because the choice never before looked this clear.
I had written this and then, that night, found out Chadwick Boseman died, and I couldn’t even. It felt like a gut kick, or lower. That news both underscored the premise of this post–there’s so much and it’s so bad–and doubled me over. We need leaders and role models, people of character and courage. We can ill afford to lose those we have. Go with God, Chadwick, and thank you.