Hope for When the World Goes Mad

I googled “world going insane” just now and got over 9,080,000 results. And I’m not the least bit surprised. The world gets hotter by the year, and yet climate deniers insist that global warming is a hoax, or at best not being caused by human activity. Fallout shelter signs that once seemed like retro cold war mementos are taking on new meaning as the United States and North Korea rattle sabers, and states are even beginning to make preparations for a nuclear attack just in case. The President who tweeted that we must “condemn what hates stands for” and that there is “no place for this kind of violence in America” is the same man who also said that the violence in Charlottesville has “many sides” rather than condemning it outright. He’s also the man who has repeatedly encouraged violence at his rallies.

This video brings that rhetoric straight home.

 

I don’t have the heart or the voice for writing a brilliant article condemning hatred and the alt right. I can’t advise anyone what to do or how to feel when the world seems bleak and it’s a challenge to scroll through news or social media feeds every morning. The best I can do is tell you how I get through it all.

A Word to the Excruciatingly Sensitive

Like every American who was old enough to take it in, I remember September 11, 2001. That morning, I was hurrying my kids (now young millennials who rank among the too-young-to-remember) out the door to school. They were running late. I was frustrated, sure they were going to miss the bus, when my then-husband, Peter, called from work saying, “Turn on the news. A plane just flew into the World Trade Center.”

I’ve always been sensitive. Loud noises, unless I’m prepared for them, startle me badly. Crowds can break me and turn me into a hyperventilating mess. Violent images on television are more than I can take. But, like many, my husband was compelled to watch the 24/7 news coverage in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. About two days after the disaster—when I’d witnessed replay after replay of the planes striking the towers and the towers inevitably collapsing into rubble with all those people inside—I walked into our living room to find Peter engrossed in the news.

“Look at this,” he said, indicating something on TV. And suddenly the whole of it—the images, the constant talk about the events, the pall that hung over us all during those horrible days—overwhelmed me. Peter stood up when he saw the anxiety on my face, and I collapsed into his arms sobbing, “I can’t! I can’t! I just can’t!”

If you’re abnormally sensitive like me, you’ve had these moments, too. The world can seem a cruel, hostile place. Every day brings a round of news stories that seem destined to push our psyches to the breaking point.

But here’s comfort, my gentle souls—we’re the normal ones. And we are legion. 

Hate is not the norm. Ignorance is not the norm. Bigotry is not the norm. Violence is not the norm. Love and kindness are.

“Look for the Helpers”

Knowing that hate, ignorance, bigotry, and violence are not the norm doesn’t change how witnessing it in our world makes me feel. Even when my head tells me those things are aberrations, I still find myself succumbing to dark feelings that our society is going farther and farther off the rails with each passing day.

The late Fred Rogers once reiterated his mother’s words about times of tragedy, saying “My mother . . . she would say, ‘Always look for the helpers. There will always be helpers just on the sidelines.’ That’s why I think if news programs could make a conscious effort of showing rescue teams . . . anybody who’s coming into a place where there’s a tragedy, to be sure that they include that.”

 

But the media leads with violence. As much as we’d like to deny it, we’re drawn to bad news. Our primitive amygdalas compel us to look for danger.  In Charlottesville this weekend, a car plowed intentionally into a crowd protesting a white supremacist rally. Thirty-two-year-old Heather Heyer died as a result. (As I read this article I came to believe that Heather, like me, was also deeply sensitive. She was one of us.)

On Saturday, November 12, a woman died on American soil fighting Nazis. Just let that sink in for a moment. And then, with that bad news heavy in your heart . . . look for the good. Look for the helpers. Look for the light. 

In the wake of the terror in Charlottesville, people stood up. They faced danger in the name of peace, inclusion, diversity, and unity. Solidarity rallies have sprung up around the nation.

Moments like these are catalysts. When we become complacent, when we fall into the tolerance paradox, we inevitably find ourselves at a historical turning point. And for every Timothy McVeigh, there’s a multitude of people like fire fighter Chris Fields tenderly spiriting tiny Baylee Almon away from the wreckage of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. For every 9/11 terrorist, there are throngs of fire fighters, police officers, and civilians willing to charge into harm’s way to rescue survivors and recover the lost. In the aftermath of a hate-fueled driver—domestic terrorist James Alex Fields—plowing his car into a crowd of counter-protesters in Charlottesville, we see everyday heroes banding together, coming to one another’s aid, running not away from the darkness but toward it to help.

We are here. Goodness is here. We are not always loud, but we are strong. And we are many. There are so many more of us on the side of virtue than on the side of hate. And if we’ve somehow allowed ourselves to fall asleep, this sleeping giant is roaring back to life.

I’ll leave you with the wise words Patton Oswalt wrote after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing:

. . . the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We’d have eaten ourselves alive long ago.

So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, ‘The good outnumber you, and we always will.’

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A Solstice Reflection

winter sunset

Image Credit: Zach Dischner

Updated December 21, 2016

Every year, in my part of the northern hemisphere, the leaves forsake the trees and the snow starts to fly in December. Nature is still. Dormant. Even the animals that remain active through the cold, dark months have changed—instead of seeking out mates and producing young, they’re in survival mode, scurrying around in search of food and shelter. Earth is tipped on its axis away from the sun’s warmth and light. The days grow shorter and shorter. When I wake, the sun is barely over the horizon. By late afternoon, it’s sinking low in the sky. This is December—a time for descending into darkness, for hunkering down, for settling in to ride out the bleak months.

But in late December, a small, miraculous thing occurs. On the eve of the solstice, we slip into the longest, darkest night of the year. At this time of year, many of us partake in traditions, most with ancient origins, designed to fight back against the darkness. Instead of surrendering to the gloom, we light our homes and hearths. Our towns put up seasonal decorations. We deck our halls in red and green, silver and gold. Candles glow in our windows. We wish each other peace and joy. We celebrate the love of family and friends. Christians celebrate the birth of the Son, the Light of the World, while Jews light the menorah to commemorate the miracle of a one-day supply of oil lighting the Maccabees’ lamps for eight days. Pagans place a Yule log on the fire to symbolize warmth and light and sustenance.

On the solstice, the longest night of the year, a tiny bit of cosmic magic will take place and gradually, day by day, the light will grow. Instead of our days getting progressively darker, now they will get progressively lighter. It will take a while for the earth to warm again, but warm it will, and spring will come, bringing new growth, followed by the warmth of summer, and eventually the harvest, and then the decline into autumn as nature grows quiet again and heads back into its long winter’s sleep.

You see, it doesn’t matter what we celebrate. No matter whether we’re saying “Merry Christmas,” “Happy holidays,” “Blessed Yule,” or “Happy Hanukkah”… nature will do what nature does, quietly and simply. And every year I’m in awe.