SUSTENANCE

Charlottesville is consuming me. I admit to being obsessed with all the coverage and interviews. It cannot be good for me to watch too much CNN and listen to too many talking heads, but I cannot look away. I am fascinated by how human beings can grow such hate in their hearts and minds, hate that leads them to see others as less than human. It’s a specific kind of selfishness that is truly terrifying. It’s fear. It has always been fear and it will always be fear.

Look into your own family, look at the people you love. Why do they lash out, why do they do hurtful things, even to people they love?  Fear.  


I look at my own children, who I know are good and kind people, and I’m shocked multiple times a week at how vicious they can be with each other, how immediately defensive they are when they feel threatened and fearful. If they are about to get in trouble, if they know they did something hurtful, if they think they are about to get steamrolled -- they are virulently defensive. They feed each other to the wolves.

It’s disheartening to see, partly because it suggests that we, their parents, aren’t doing a very good job at helping them navigate interpersonal relationships. We want them to know, in their hearts, the power of a sincere apology, of raw empathy and kindness. As parents, we know that these things are the foundation of relationships that sustain us and ultimately bring us peace and joy.

Relationships that sustain us: this is what we need in our culture and communities. What is so terribly sad to me is to look back 25 years, to the way I saw the world when I first joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, and to recognize that at that time, I thought I lived in a progression that was taking the country forward. I thought I was on and part of a path that was bringing more good into the world, more love and compassion, more empathy and understanding. Less divisiveness.

But when I look at what’s happening -- everything from the Neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville, to the way we attack "neglectful" parents when their children get hurt, to the relentless viciousness of social media -- I am chilled by how far it seems we have gone in the other direction. Children of the world, THIS is why parents are alarmed at what the culture is teaching you, showing you and planting in you. We do not want you to look around and see the nastiness and the vapidness and grow up breathing that air. I do not want my daughters to see the Kardashians, laugh at the shallowness with which that family is portrayed for the sake of ratings, and simply be entertained. I do not want my sons to see tasteless memes about sex, and simply be amused.

There is a through line, for me, between these mindless, slippery slope allowances and the hate and hurt assaulting our communities. Both are about demeaning others and putting things (profit? power?) before people. Neither will ever help us build the relationships we need.

When Trump was elected, I wept bitterly because I felt fear. It was, then, an unnamed fear of something sinister coming, or more rightly, being revealed. I knew, in my bones, that the weeks and months ahead would be filled with things that would make me ache for people, for my children and for the children of people I don't understand, like the neo-nazi's filling the TV screen. Watching recent days unfold, I feel as though I am watching my fears materialize, those fears of what Trump’s presidency would usher in. I knew this would happen. Standing in my kitchen on election night, I wept each time my son came in to tell me that another state had been called for Trump. And I knew we should be bracing ourselves for ugliness, for the infliction of pain and for all manner of affronts to human dignity and goodness. I knew Charlottesville was coming.

How can simple human kindness make a difference? It doesn't seem strong enough in the face of hate marches and seas of swastikas and weaponized cars. It doesn't seem like enough, until I look at the most important times in my own life, those that have transformed me and brought me peace. They are all intimate and personal occasions of connection -- falling in love, the birth of a child, listening to a friend's story of suffering.  The private moments when we are most present to each other are the moments that make us the strongest.  

This is my activism, paying attention to the private moments that connect us all and looking for more and more of them to sustain me.

My children, my sweet children, those I’ve given birth to and those I haven't, I know who you are. I know you are made of goodness and kindness to your core. I know, and you know, that the behavior we are witnessing is antithetical to love and humanity. Find ways to rise above your own fear and defensiveness; find ways to rise above others’ as well. Reject, resist, and repel the hatred you see swirling around us. Learn about it, understand what is out there, but turn to the people around you and cultivate the habits of being that drive out hate. Start with the people closest to you, then turn outwards to others, but keep it going. Never stop radiating love, patience and empathy. Never, ever stop. You are what the world needs now.

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