I remember when I used to watch the news.
Rolling headlines underscored the brutality,
reducing it into bite sized chunks of fear.
Talking heads spoke gravely,
refusing to offer
I don’t know what to do with terror,
with violence, hate and savagery.
I know it lurks within us all,
especially within me.
But I must resist being defined by the
Sadness becomes the air I inhale,
despondency my state.
Until we see each other without fear
we are doomed to rinse and
There is but one force with
sufficient power to shine through
the haze of hate and horror,
but when we saw it in unfiltered brightness
we nailed it to a cross.
Whenever I am presented with something that defies understanding – a feeling, a situation, an experience – I turn to poetry. This week, with the unspeakable horrors that are unfolding in countless places in our planet, words seem inadequate…trite even. And yet I can’t shake the sadness and despondency without facing it head on, with the only weapon I have left – words.
I’ve been listening to an interview with the State Poet for New York, Marie Howe, and an excerpt from her poem ‘The Meadow’ is hauntingly beautiful: “Bedeviled, / human, your plight, in waking, is to choose from the words / that even now sleep on your tongue, and to know that tangled / among them and terribly new is the sentence that could change your life.” She follows this up with saying “language is almost all we have left of action in the modern world.”
I’m unable to see the world in black and white anymore. Terrorist v Innocent. Violence v Peace. If anything, these battles are raging within each heart at any given moment. Is it the abusive father’s fault that he has not the capacity for love when it was never shown to him? Can we not imagine ourselves in the wretches of poverty, latching hungrily onto the first person to offer us hope and meaning, even if entangled in the grasp of religious rhetoric and violent weapons? The more we distance ourselves from the horror, fiercely proclaiming ‘not us’, the chasm only becomes wider and will swallow us all.
If only there were answers that sat sweetly on the tongue, offering hope and security and easing hidden suffering. But it is never that easy, is it? In the meantime, I’m immersing myself in stories of those who forgot themselves in the chaos – the motorcyclist who tried desperately to overtake the truck in Nice, before falling and ending up underneath. The civilian who hurled himself into the cab, wrestling with the driver and cutting short the carnage with little thought for his own safety. Ordinary men and women who are opening their homes to those needing shelter by connecting with the hashtag #PortesOuvertesNice. If we, as Fred Roger’s mother so profoundly directed, ‘look for the helpers’, we will always find them.
As hopeless as it seems, I console myself by knowing that redemption is always waiting around the next corner. It may be found in the magic shop, where almost delinquent James Doty found himself as an adolescent – escaping the woes of his alcoholic father and incapacitated mother. The unsmiling boy discovered that day the magic of the brain and its ability to transcend circumstances through the visiting ‘earth mother’ type who took the time to invest in him. Dr Doty is now a renowned neurosurgeon, using science to uncover powerful concepts such as ‘positive contagion’, reminding us that “each of us has the ability to change how we emotionally respond to our life circumstance and create an environment where we ultimately can flourish and give those around us the opportunity to flourish”. His inspiring interview at On Being continues to reverberate hope in my mind.
Instead of lamenting the darkness, I want to be a part of pointing to the light – the love, empathy, peacefulness – acts which may not be ‘newsworthy’ as we understand the term today. Our collective story is not yet finished. We have the power to choose love and shun fear, seeing beyond difference and superficiality. Together imagining connection, peace and an Age of Compassion.