I remember the morning after September 11th, when the full impact of what had happened was just beginning to be known, and folks were still reeling from the horror, I noticed something, and it was this–people were kinder. Gentler. More apt to speak softly and to extend help. I know this wasn’t true everywhere–I know in some places tempers raged and grief lashed out and fear struck in anger…but in my corner of the world in Lexington, Kentucky, there seemed to be an effort to be decent human beings. To recognize WE had been hurt, and that WE would only rise from the rubble of it all if we did so together.
Sort of like those 4 men in that Mexican bakery in Houston a couple weeks back–who, stranded in their place of employment went to work making bread for those who would survive Harvey’s wrath. In their time of need and danger they focused on others. Or that furniture store owner who said, “Y’all come,” to his fellow Houstonians in need of shelter, no matter who they were or what damage it would wreak on his merchandise.
Sort of like all of those–of every nation, religion, tribe and tongue–who have commandeered boats and made human chains in flood waters and activated social media networks to find the missing and made sacrificial gifts of time and money to help those who have needed it.
I cannot even imagine what it has been like in Houston. Or what it is like right now in the midst of Irma. And I knew no one who died in those twin towers or in that Pennsylvania field 16 years ago. But I know that my heart has raged in pain for all of it. Just as my heart raged after Charlottesville. I have wept for those directly affected, and prayed in my own perceived helplessness.
But my heart has also swelled with joy at the ways I’ve seen people rise from the wreckage and terror and into their very best efforts at being human.
I recently came across these words from Glennon Doyle, one of my favorite writers. She said, “When the shit hits the fan, the only damn thing that matters is people.”
Hashtag truth, y’all. We are so often at our very best when we have been through the absolute worst. Because when we’re in the midst of hell, it doesn’t seem to matter whose hand is reaching down to pull us out.
I’ve no idea what the science of this is, or if there even is such science, I just know it happens. And each time I am grateful, and wonder, too, why it takes such awful heartache for us to recognize the bits of God in one another, and why we can’t hold on to it, why, weeks and months later, we are back to our bickering and othering and being selfish and pointing fingers. We are capable of such hopeful and beautiful triumph in the midst of despair, and equally as capable of forgetting our common lot as human beings once the immediate crisis has passed. Such selective memory we have, you know?
Still, the moments of beauty, they give me hope. Because they are tiny glimpses into the grace that comes when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to one another that we’re able to say, “I see that you are so much more like me than I’ve ever known.”
Generally, vulnerability can be a beast. When I am feeling vulnerable, I’m generally prone to sharp words, quick tears, and then really fast emotional-wall building. I gather my fortress of defense mechanisms around me, shutting out anything gives me a sense of threat. Self-care perhaps, but also something that can make me miss out on really amazing possibilities, especially when it comes to relationships with other people.
I think this is true of us corporately, too. When we feel threatened, left out, or experience grief we do not understand, we shut down and shut out, and retreat into our own kind and our own ways and our own spaces. It’s easier that way, or so we think.
It’s only when, as Glennon says, the shit really hits the fan that we’re able to set aside all our futile armor and finally, joyfully, even if painfully, see that for the love of all that is Holy we are so very much alike one another. We’re all scared. Pained. Hurt. Grieved. And we were all made for beauty. For relationship. For love.
People are the only damn thing that matters, y’all. And I know this is terrifying, the trusting of ourselves to this truth. Our dearly held beliefs, our bank accounts, our material possessions, these things we cling to as if our entire self depends upon them for any worth at all, and it’s such a farce. Such an evil trick played upon our hearts. Without one another, without the shelter we offer each other in our finest moments, we fall apart. Completely. Utterly. With little chance of resurrection.
So maybe we could all just take a breath. Realize what a complete mess we’re for so many reasons and in so many ways in this country. And have the courage and heart to make a little space for grace to grow. For mercy to pour down on our angry and frightened lives with all the healing it can bring. For enough vulnerability on each of our parts to recognize the vulnerability in others, and so find a way towards strength together.
Hate is always going to riot. Evil is always going to try to sink its tenacious claws into our existence. But I still believe love is stronger. Grace is mightier. And that the human spirit, when clothed with both, is capable of triumphing over all that threatens to undo us.
May it be so.