“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to one another.” – Mother Teresa
I keep coming back to this quote, partly because it never stops being true. But I also keep coming back to this quote because we keep forgetting. I’m compelled to write today to implore us to remember.
Two years ago, almost to the day, we watched in horror as children lost their lives in a senseless school shooting on our soil. This morning we are confronted by the images of weeping mothers and fathers facing the same unimaginable tragedy half a globe away. The circumstances behind these tragedies are very different, but the grief of these families, the grief is the same. It breaks down language and religious barriers and exposes the connectedness of the human experience.
Yet, we are so disconnected. In an era of instant online connectivity and global communication, we still lead such isolated lives. We wake up half a world away from this tragedy and we read the headlines and we feel horrified and sad and angry and then, because the world keeps turning, we finish our coffee and we move through our day. Many of us have personal challenges to attend to in the midst of this particular world crisis, such as a sick family member, a job loss, a funeral. There is laundry to be washed and meals to cook. We go to our jobs, because there is work to be done. There are final exams and dental appointments and drum lessons and gift wrapping. Someone receives wonderful news and that news deserves celebration, even today. It is someone’s birthday. Someone gives birth today. The world keeps turning, as it always does.
And yet, in the same 24 hours, the world stopped turning for the families of 141 people in Peshawar, most of them children. And they don’t know when or how it will ever start again. Their communities will grieve, are already grieving. There will be funerals and vigils and space for the overwhelming anguish.
I walked through this day in a semi-fog. I wondered over and over where to find a proverbial wailing wall in the context of our own culture. I need a wailing wall. My heart is shattered for these families and I long for a collective space to share that grief. My personal world keeps turning and all the normal events unfold and yet I cannot let this news become yesterday’s headline. I know I am not alone in this. I know because my phone is lit with messages and I see the words online from others who don’t know what to do with their grief but are not ready to simply move past it.
I asked a friend from Pakistan this morning what her community will do to mark this tragedy and what we can do and she simply asked me to pray. I promised her that I would pray for each and every name that is released, that I would hold space for every person’s life that was lost today, and I’m asking you to join me. Whether you pray or not, all of us can hold space for our brothers and sisters in Peshawar. As names are released, as images pour in, all of us can set aside a moment to light a candle and look at the names and let our hearts be broken open as we read them and remember that these boys and girls are someone’s babies. We may not share their language or even be able to pronounce their names, but we can write them on our hearts.
It is painful to lean into tragedy. I know how hard it is to look at the pictures, to envision the children as loved ones, to dare to imagine this in our own community and allow that to fill us with compassion. But I believe that is exactly what we are called to do as humans. That word – compassion – derived from Latin means “to suffer alongside.” To be compassionate is to suffer alongside. When we do this, we let these mothers and fathers half a world away know that we will remember and honor their children, just as we have collectively remembered and honored children lost in horrifying tragedies on our own soil. When we do this, it becomes harder to ignore our shared humanity. When we do this, we are organically moved from shared suffering to shared action. When we do this, we move towards peace.
I know the world keeps turning. I know there are children to tuck in, meetings to attend, elves to hide, phone calls to make, floors to sweep, bills to pay, books to read. There is joy in the midst of tragedy, celebration in the midst of grief. That is the way of the world. That we wake each day and live our lives in all the ways we live them is in and of itself a beautiful act of optimism and hope. But tonight, for a few minutes, please hold space for those who are not ready for a new day without the ones they love. Please suffer alongside them.