Making sense of tragedy

From Paris to Beirut. From Baghdad to Baltimore.

Cities of light and of great darkness these past few weeks. Cities that seem a world away. Cities not actually so far. Cities where real humanity hums along every day.

It has been a particularly tough season, one that makes me ask out loud “what is my role?” in all of this tragedy and change.  I seem to be asking that more and more these days.

The witty and wise writer Anne Lamott wrote a deeply moving piece on her Facebook page that asks the question of “where do we even begin today?” (PS, if you haven’t read her book Traveling Mercies, please make it your next read.) Some excerpts:

“So where do we even begin today? What do we do when it feels like we are all doomed, and the future will only be worse, and we can’t remember anything that ever helped us come through?

…We know that this is a very dangerous place, that we are an extremely vulnerable species, that Cain is still killing Abel.”

Lamott answers this ultimate conundrum with real, practical advice: show up.

“So where do we find grace and light?

…What is the answer?…Jesus’s love for the poor and refugees is the answer. Adding a bit of light and warmth to these cold dark days doesn’t hurt. Candles are beautiful and bring a soupçon of solace to our souls. People living on the streets could really use your old blankets and jackets.

…So after an appropriate time of being stunned, in despair, we show up. Maybe we ask God for help. We do the next right thing. We buy or cook a bunch of food for the local homeless. We return phone calls, library books, smiles. We make eye contact with others, and we go to the market and flirt with old or scary unusual people who seem lonely. This is a blessed sacrament. Tom Weston taught me decades ago that in the face of human tragedy, we go around the neighborhood and pick up litter, even though there will be more tomorrow. It is another blessed sacraments. We take the action and the insight will follow: that we are basically powerless, but we are not helpless.

PeaceMeals is one expression of showing up in the wake of tragedy. I look forward to this next Meal with a group on Sunday. A place of solace. A blessed sacrament indeed.

What does your expression of showing up look like?


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