Tears fall. The woman shares her story. It’s so full of despair, full of shame, and full of loneliness. See me as human, she says. See me as more than zero.
I open the mailbox. A solitary letter sits inside. You were not accepted, it says. You were not enough to get into this program. You are not enough.
A bomb detonates. Shards of metal and flame extinguish life. Another crater gets left behind. Another family gets ripped apart by a drone strike. Why must my “freedom” cost so many innocent lives?
He was just a young boy. He could have been done so much with his life. Why was he shot? Why was his body left cold on the pavement on that dark, winter night?
There’s so much malice contained in the buzzing of a mosquito – so much sickness in its sting. Preventable. Treatable. Yet it still delivers death to millions.
The sirens never seem to stop. They wail and wail and wail. Trouble. Sickness. Injury. Crime. Death. Will they go ever go silent?
Water rises. And in a flash, the little they had washes away. The storm takes their last hope. And they have nothing. What solace can I offer them?
There’s so much pain and hurt in the world. It can strike us in a barrage of emotion – threatening to overrun us.
How do we allow ourselves to feel enough of that pain – enough that we remain human, enough that we still show compassion, and enough that we don’t become cold and uncaring?
At the same time, how do we avoid taking too much of it on – too much that we become overwhelmed, too much that we give up hope, or too much that we become broken ourselves.
I would love to tell you I have a perfect answer to these questions. But I don’t. Nor do I believe there is such an answer – a simple formula or rule that works in every situation. Instead, we’re left with a journey, a lifelong exploration of what it means to be human. We’re left with life.
I have, however, found a few things helpful on my journey.
Lean into the tension – keep asking the questions, keep pushing the boundaries, and keep experimenting with new approaches. Sometimes, we’ll get the balance wrong and will be left paralyzed by the hurt. Or we won’t do enough when we should have. But it’s how we learn.
Start with our journey – our personal practice and growth. With simple steps such as offering prayers of compassion to strangers, sitting in meditation, or greeting the people we pass on the sidewalk, we can, over time, get better at living into the tension. And from our transformation, we can transform others.
Focus on one thing and put the rest aside. There’s a lot of need in the world, but it’s OK for us not to help with everything. For the many things we can’t change, sometimes the best thing we can do is offer a short prayer, trust another will help in that situation, and return to the work we’re called to do.
Seek out community. We don’t have to do it alone. The support of others gives us strength we couldn’t have come up with on our own.
But most of all, remember the good. For all the suffering, there is much to be grateful for. It may not all be good, but it’s also not all bad. That’s worth celebrating.
What about you? How do you lean into the tension? What are some practices you’ve found helpful in working with the suffering and hardship of life?
PS: My thanks to Tom for his great questions in the comments last week.