Large turquoise-flecked stones balance precariously in a sculpture on a plaza at the University of Washington

Keeping up hope in humanity

I hadn’t intended to write about the recent terror attacks in Beirut and in Paris, nor about the way we in the West have reacted to the Paris attacks above and beyond those in Beirut and beyond. I hadn’t intended to write about the burning of mosques by people who don’t distinguish between the beauty of Islam and the horror of Daesh. Nor had I intended to write about the anti-racist student protests at the University of Missouri, which successfully demanded the ouster of Mizzou president Tim Wolfe — but only after the football team joined in, threatening the lucrative athletic program. Nor about the protests at Ohio State, where I work, which had a much better outcome, but also provoked a disgusting barrage of anonymous, racist hate speech on social media.

It’s not that these issues are unimportant. To the contrary: I think they are among the most important of our day, and I believe that a religious path that does not engage with them and stand on the side of equality, peace, and radical embrace of difference is hollow, meaningless. I posit that a god that doesn’t care about such things — or worse, that calls their followers to isolation, tribalism, and xenophobia — isn’t worth the time of day.

But there are so, so many good articles being written, by authors more knowledgeable than me, on all these topics. It’s holy work to read those articles, and to understand the issues embedded in them. To add my own take on these seems not only superfluous, but also vainglorious: “look at me! I wrote a thing!”

So I hadn’t intended to write about these things, but then I prayed this morning. My usual morning prayer is simple. I stand in the kitchen looking out the east window toward the rising run, I hold my coffee, and I greet the day. Sometimes I give thanks for the food I eat, sometimes I pray to remember that I am a part of the world. Sometimes, as today, I find words slipping away, and I relax my mind to see what will come out of my mouth, which is sometimes startling.

I began, “Hail to the day, long since dawned. Hail to sun and light and quickness.” And here I couldn’t feel the next words, but slowly said “May this day find me fully aware of the world,” watching the shadows in the leaf litter, and then all in a rush I heard my tongue say, “and may I find faith in my fellow man.”*

Faith in my fellows… yes. This was a flip side. In the wake of terror and injustice, it’s very easy to lose all hope in humanity. Not just because of terrorist organizations like Daesh, though they’re the easy, low-hanging fruit. But it’s also easy to lose hope, seeing the racist, islamophobic, xenophobic reactions from both media figures and average joes. And it’s very easy to throw up hands and write off students and townspeople who post hateful, dismissive claptrap that dehumanizes and belittles the pain people of color feel at a beloved and powerful institutions. Wandering through broadcast and social media in the past few days has felt like wading through a swamp of sadness.

So I’m writing, and exorcising. I’m trying to live up to my subconscious’s desires. I’m trying to hold hope and faith in my heart for not only victims, but also perpetrators. I’m trying to stay in a place where there is a possibility of learning and rapprochement. It’s a delicate equilibrium, between despair and platitudes, and I pray the gods keep my balance.

* My subconscious really likes androcentric generic terms for humans, which is a little annoying. I usually correct it for public consumption, but this feels more like reportage, so I’m keeping it.

Header image: “The Temple Cairn Stone,” by Wonderlane on Flickr. CC-BY.

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