Yesterday morning I attended a special service at a local school for Veterans Day. I did so to stand with and be present for a vet I care for deeply and of whom I am really proud. But, as one might suspect, it gave me space and time to reflect on other veterans I’ve known and cared for, including my own grandfathers’ World War II service and my cousin, currently serving in the Middle East. My heart swelled. My eyes welled with tears. Simply from gratitude and pride–and the sadness I also feel that any of them have had to go to war at all and what it has cost them.
An hour later, back home, and flipping through my phone, I found myself in tears again, spilling over this time, as I read about the Thousand Oaks shooting, especially as I read that the shooter had been identified as Marine. A veteran.
My heart simply could not handle the ugly dichotomy of the honor and gratitude I had just seen expressed that morning for veterans, and the utter heartbreak of what I was reading about another veteran.
Still, today, I am raw from it.
And this is only one way that the world has broken my heart this week.
I’m weary of such heartbreak. We all are. It’s obvious everywhere. We’re scared and sad and tired, and that gets manifested in myriad ways–some especially beautiful, like helpers and heroes doing what they do; and some especially harmful, like the way social media erupts into something nasty and dehumanizing and altogether painful when crises emerge.
It is completely pathetic that I faltered, just for a second, before walking into Kroger yesterday–not the same Kroger, but a mile from it, where a couple weeks back two shoppers were gunned down in a violent expression of hate.
It is completely pathetic that the doors to my daughter’s school stay locked–even during a production of the school musical when proud parents and families are streaming in–because the threat of other such violence is so real. I’m so grateful for the extreme safety precautions. And so horrified they have to be put in place to begin with.
I do not have time for such fear. I do not have room in my heart for such hate. And I do not want to hear another word about whose fault it all is.
I want it to stop. I want us to be the country I know we can be. I want peace and freedom and equality and justice and love and wholeness for every. single. one. of. us.
This was my frame of mind as I took my favorite budding actress to opening night of Disney’s Little Mermaid, Jr. last night.
Last night she played a sea creature, tonight she will play one of the lead roles–Flounder–and we’re bursting with excitement and stage nerves over it. I’m so thrilled for her…and yet…last night, my heart hurt so much I could barely sit still, could barely concentrate, as I finished my volunteer usher responsibilities and snuck in just as the curtain rose on the first scene.
I don’t remember much about the beginning–I was antsy, distracted.
But then…then…Under the Sea. Music cued. Brightly colored costumes lit up the stage. The student actors broke into smiles and gave themselves over the music, swaying and dancing. Sea creatures came pouring in through the side doors and the audience lit up at the novelty of the creatures sashaying and twirling down the aisles. I watched Curly Girl-turned-bright-pink-fish go spinning across part of the stage, her joy in doing it absolutely shining.
I was so taken by the beauty of this amateur production’s energy and fun that I even forgot my stewing irritation at the theater-goers using their phones to record the moment despite specific instructions not to do so (I’m kidding. Sort of. Okay, not really…).
I thought to myself–as I always do when I watch my girl and her peers do their thing–you know, when the kids sing, suddenly everything feels like it might one day be okay again.
When the kids sing, room for hope begins to carve itself out in my heart.
When the kids sing, it is possible to remember beauty.
When the kids sing, it is impossible not to smile and be thankful.
When the kids swing, my heart is at rest, even if just for a moment, and I can remember that all is not lost.
Their singing does not make the ugly and painful go away–not by a long shot. But it does come up alongside the ugly and painful, even if quietly, and say, “But also this.”
But also this.
Because damn, the world is making it hard to hope.
But damn, they make it so easy.
We have to do better for them, y’all. We have to nurture and protect their precious hearts and minds, even as we let them grow and become.
My heart is still hurting today, this is true. But alongside the ache is reality of all that keeps me going in this life, all that beckons us to remember why life is so sacred. So beautiful. So worth it.
When the kids sing…they shine enough light that I suspect, if we’d let it, it could show us through the darkness.