Yesterday afternoon a church member walked in to the office. Our talk turned immediately, as it does so often these days, to the despair at the events in the world around us. This day we talked of wildfires.
We both did a lot of rubbing our eyes, spreading our fingers across our faces, pressing the pads of our fingers agains our temples. One of the signs of our times is that I am becoming more and more familiar with my friends’ mannerisms of desperation.
And then she said, But blessed are those who bring children up in this world. They’re the ones who are going to grow up and change all this.
I hope so, but more often than not I ask, ‘what was I thinking bringing a child into this broken world?’
Yes, well, it takes a lot of heart. A lot of heart. She clasped her hands together at her chest and smiled at me before she left.
I like to think that the word heart and the word courage are interchangeable. It is often noted that the etymology of “courage” can be traced to the latin “cor” meaning “heart.” Courage comes from the heart, and yes, it takes a lot of courage to be raising a child in the middle of these fearsome days.
Sometimes it is crippling. I once told my counselor that having Joseph feels like I have a raw nerve, like a skinned knee, just out in the world bumping in to things. I am so much more deeply affected by the pain of the world than I was before I had a child. I am forced to feel it because now, through Joseph, I am irrevocably in relationship to the world outside my body, my self. Now there’s a part of me that’s out there, literally physically bumping into things, interacting no matter how hard I try to disconnect. That kind of rawness makes you guarded, makes you protect your wound with your hands, makes you try to keep the pain out. I recall the time my bike tires caught in the grooves of a train tracks and I found myself suddenly on the side of the road bleeding and cursing, holding my knee and gritting my teeth just trying to feel a little bit less.
At the same time Joseph’s birth has forced me to keep my feet on the ground, forced me to keep putting one foot in front of the other, in a powerful way I never could have before. The weeks since the election have been increasingly strenuous, and this last week is no exception.
The mountains burning, our neighbors losing their homes, Charles passed away, confronting partner abuse in our community again, a live shooter at OSU where my youngest cousin goes to school, Dylan Roof goes to trial for the shooting at Mother Emmanuel AME Zion church in Charleston, four of my friends get arrested in a protest in downtown Knoxville. On the phone during the protest I hear the words I’ve never seen the police behave like this, Lauren. I’ve never seen anything like this before.
The post-election adrenaline is wearing off, and I am left staring at the pain around me with no defenses. Each morning I have woken up and thought I couldn’t take another day of it, I’m just not ready. I wasn’t ready when this week started and each day has been more than I know I can bear. And yet each day has come and each day I have borne it and done what I could and gone on anyways.
Last night I went to my book study group and when our facilitator asked us what we wanted to during our meeting that night, I was tempted to pull my sweater over my head like I did as a child, close my eyes tight and try to reach deep for that safe place that I once believed in. Instead I breathed in and then out again, and we went on with our meeting, each of us speaking candidly to these feelings of wearing-thin. Afterwards I took my son home, dressed him in pajamas, read him a story as he fell asleep.
These are dark days, and there is not much light ahead. I would much rather write that things are going to get better real soon, but we all know that’s not true. I would much rather write a rallying cry, and maybe another day I will be able to do that. But today I know that things are going to get a lot worse before they get better, and we might not be lucky enough to see that turning when and if it happens.
I am not a brave person. It is not easily that I find strength to do the next right thing. I don’t always find it. But in these days, I find that I must have courage. Courage is what we have when we love, and in these days to love is to have skinned knees. I know I am lucky in so many ways. One of the ways I am lucky is to have my son Joseph. He brings me back constantly into the present, forces me not to unravel when all I want to do is pull my sweater over my head or sit on the side of the road bleeding. Because I love him, I get up in the morning and make breakfast even when the hills are on fire around us.
I don’t believe that you have to have a child to have this kind of courage. I see it also in so many of my friends who choose day after day to keep their hearts open when they could be closed, who choose to love each other when they could choose instead the relative safety of distance. We keep our hearts open, and we suffer the consequences, but I can’t see any other way.