Friday, November 20, 2015

Paris, Syria, and courage: a brain dump

I wrote most of this on the Tuesday after the Paris attacks. I spent the last few days deciding if I should edit to make it... well, better-written... but I decided not to. So here it is:

I spent at least some of Monday holding back tears. And yes, at least once it was because of the new Adele song, but mostly it was because of everything that is happening far away - Paris, Beirut, Syria. And as if that's not hard enough to stomach, I live in a privileged country full of people who don't realize their privilege, and if they do, they certainly don't want to share it. And we have the news, where people with money are given a voice, and social media, where EVERYONE is given a voice, and I'm not hearing or reading much that is making anything better.

I bet there is a word for what I'm feeling, but I don't know what it is. Despair seems insensitive, in light of the source of the feeling. Frustrated isn't adequate. Heartbroken? Maybe. Hopeless... Hopeless is close. Heartsick. Sad.

I remember the Sunday after the shooting at Sandy Hook, which Anne Lamott called "the end of the world," I went to church. To me, a belief in God doesn't mean anything unless it makes you a better person than you might otherwise be, unless it teaches you how to BE with others. The idea the pastor expressed that Sunday was that so many people were asking, "How could God let this happen?" and the answer was that God was asking the same thing: "How could YOU let this happen?"

It's on us. All of this, everything that happens on this planet, the only habitable planet as far as time can tell... it's on us. And we are fucking it up, royally.

Religion - a belief in something bigger than you - has the power to do so much good, and yet in our hands, it does exactly the opposite. THIS IS WHY WE CAN'T HAVE NICE THINGS. After spending a lifetime believing in God and going to church, at times more frequently than others, I am presently in a tenuous relationship with religion and I guess with God. I still think a strong faith can be good, as long as the believer does good with it. (Of course, different believers think different things are good and different things are evil... so it's really just a mess.) Pray for Paris? No. We don't need more religion. We don't need more prayers. It's on YOU. It's up to YOU to make a difference.

And who can we look to? Fred Rogers' mom told him to look for the helpers. Okay. We have all of these governors in America, the land of the free and the BRAVE, saying they won't accept any Syrian refugees. Let's forget about the fact that Mary and Joseph were a Middle Eastern couple looking for shelter. Let's just not even mention that. Instead, let's look at this quote, from FDR: "Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear." I tell my kids this all the time. "Being brave isn't about not being afraid. It's about being afraid but doing it anyway." This is where we need to step up. This is what my pastor was talking about. This is the stuff we have to do. It's okay to be afraid, but we have to go on anyway and do what is right.

We are so far removed from what is happening anywhere else but here. We are so LUCKY, and we forget it all the time. I almost bitched to a co-worker this morning about somebody taking up two spots in the parking lot and thereby forcing me to park 3 blocks away, and I stopped myself, because REALLY, KATIE?

So maybe this is the difference to be made, for me. Maybe I just work harder to practice a little gratitude. A little compassion. At the end of the day, we are all made of the same space dust. You and me and the guys who blew themselves up in Paris. The people escaping terror and civil war in Syria. We're all the same, just a collection of cells and codes and patterns, more alike than we are different. So maybe I just embrace my own humanity a little better. I'll work on teaching my kids to be good people. And yes, I donated and will continue to donate, but I will also try to remember: remember how lucky I am, remember how brief my time is here.

What will you do?

Donate to UNHCR here.