The world has been grieving for too many days now. Orlando, Louisiana, Minnesota, Dallas, Nice, Turkey. And these are just the tragedies about which we know because the various news outlets deem them worthy enough for our attention. Of course, every day, 30 people die from gun violence in this country. Many die from cancer or other diseases long before what we might call a full life is over. Others die suddenly in the context of what we call a tragedy. And people starve to death all over the world while we throw away more food than we consume.
“ENOUGH!” we scream inside (maybe outwardly as well). Or in the words of the old Broadway musical, “Stop the World! I Want to Get Off!” But we can’t. We can’t get off the world and it won’t stop. What, then, can we do? How do we mitigate the negativity all around us (a negativity that we fear may be right on top of us at any moment?)?
Two possibilities come to mind. One is that when we walk down the street and someone is coming in the other direction, try to make eye contact with that person and say hello. We never know what might happen in the next moment and that passerby might be someone upon whom our life might depend or vice versa.
This past week, my wife suggested that we go to church – not just any church, Macedonia
Baptist in Watts, the sister church of our congregation. Pastor Shane Scott was amazingly honest and inspirational. He lifted us all up when all we could see was a downward spiral. Part of his honesty was to have all the young men in the congregation stand up and walk forward to the pulpit. He then asked all the older men to come forward and surround them. He told the rest of the congregation to rise “embrace” these young men, lifting up our hands, beseeching protection and blessing upon them. He asked the choir to sing a beautiful contemporary gospel piece called “I Need You to Survive”. The song is sung from the standpoint of someone speaking to an anonymous “other”. It doesn’t matter who it is because when human beings act as horribly as we can or when the Universe produces it’s natural catastrophes, we need each other to survive, whomever that other might be. I need you to survive.
My other suggestion is to use the word “and” more than the word “but”. I find the word “and” to be much more hopeful, much more forward thinking. “But” stops us in our tracks. “And” pushes us forward. Hebrew has a nice indication of how “and” moves us into the future, into the inevitable unknown. In Hebrew the word “and” isn’t really a word at all. It’s a letter, the letter “vav” (ו ), and it’s always attached to another word, attached moving onward. When the world is moving in many directions, it’s seems like we are, too, and we try to artificially “stop” the world with the word “but”. “And”, on the other hand, reminds us that there’s really only one direction to our lives and that’s forward. That’s where hope is possible. That’s where peace is possible. That’s where understanding and kindness are possible. We’d better get going to “and”. There’s much to be done, and only one direction to go to get there.