He sat down at the table with me briefly while I ate and he waited on food to go from the cafe. Since he knew of the chaos raging, not much had to be said. I looked up and tried to squint in the way we try to squint when working to hold back tears that we are tired of.
The same way we squint that usually fails when someone knows of the raging chaos.
As tears began to crack and run down the edge of my runny nose, he said, “It’s like a bomb got dropped in the backyard.”
More tears. Nods. Then conversation about weather, salads, and other things neither of us cared about.
I’ve noticed a sense of being caught between surveying the damage and trying to move. The quote housed about my desk that refrains often in my own mind and heart when things seems unbelievably devastating felt a little out of reach at this point. To quote it, even to myself, felt like cheating the grief and confusion and fury and loss that was gripping everything inside of me:
We fill the craters left by the bombs
And once again we sing
And once again we sow
Because life never surrenders.
– Anonymous Vietnamese poem
I could not imagine myself filling the craters yet, much less singing and sowing because I could not yet fathom or feel the extent of the damage, I could not sense the size of the crater left by the bomb in our backyards. I could only survey the damage. And with every glance, its complexity became deeper and harder to wrap my hands around. I would find myself staring into the crater and disappearing in my thoughts. I was beginning even to have trouble remembering what used to be in it’s place. All I could sense and see was a crater. Impossible to fill.
But somewhere, a sense that we, in community, always fill the craters, kept me from jumping in completely to the loss. Phone calls to friends and mentors. Visits to kitchen counters and living room floors. Weeping and asking and not answering.
And then, somewhere, even while still surveying the damage left by the bombs, something somewhere insists that we are our sorrow, but we are also more than our sorrow. We are also our hopes and dreams and work and errands and children and families and lives and friends and promises of the future. “We are more than our sorrow” Thich Nhat Hanh says, and so we enter into the reality that is the only thing stranger than the reality of the chaos. We enter into the reality that we are all of these things at once, in our humanity, and we must be all of them at once to find a way to move.
And so we move.
Because we are more than our sorrow, even as real as the sorrow may be.
Michigan Ave, Chicago
Over the last week, there were a few different works of art, all different in style, which reminded me again how much I appreciate the diversity of our histories and stories, and therefore our perspectives and needs to narrate. Nothing crazy, just a few works of art I found stunning.
To think of endless concrete barriers as an opportunity to use childhood memories, illusion, and skill to create a shared asphalt gallery…
To photograph happy and loving families who can quickly put everything they own in front of their homes, and to view them with some sense of envy rather than any sense of pity while taking in the photograph…
To catch a glimpse of a world that from one corner is everyday and from another seems like it’s only from a cartoon, reminding that there is so much more that is so very real than we can even begin to imagine.
Good art. Good perspectives. Good stories.
Mashed together for Monday morning. A Monday Morning Mash.
Click the title or image to see the collection. Post your own in the comments.
Pine Tree Dr.
I dusted the picture frame that sits on my bathroom counter. I think it has been in the same space four or five years.
I would be lying if I said I have dusted it in the last four or five months. I’m sorry, Mom.
But today I dusted that joker. I cleaned, as in scrubbed, that obnoxious tile in the space between the toilet and the wall. I swiffered the heck out of the space between the bottom of the bed in the guest bedrooom and the floor. I found books, the dog’s collars, and chargers to phones that I’ve long stuffed into the drawers that I have no idea what actually hold.
But for some reason, it was the picture frame in today’s cleaning that stood out to me.
I’ve got a buddy coming in from out of town for the week, and so I found my Sunday evening, usually wrapped up in preparing for work, also cleaning the spaces that have long ago moved off the last-minute-cleaning to-do list.
I picked up the picture frame, long abandoned as jobs and times schedules have shifted, and froze for a moment while wiping the dust off the image.
The last two weeks have been unusually weighed heavily with late-night meetings and early-morning conversations, catch-up schedules and bedtime questions about the worthwhileness of the work itself.
And tonight, in dusting off of photos that sit and are looked at daily on the bathroom counter, I remembered, all over again, of how I am changed, and privileged, by the work.
All is worth it. All is unearned. All is prized.
And all is worth a space in the middle of the daily routine, even the bathroom counter space of the daily routine, as a reminder that the world goes not well, but the kingdom comes.
Thanks to the boys in the picture, David and Kevin, for the voice of the gospel that they continue to bear, and to a friend visiting for the week who forces me to clean the tiles and dust the picture and remember.
We are a people of privilege and entitlement.
We are among the haves––
we have education,
Too often we are indulgent and self-sufficient consumers.
We speak of our achievements and accomplishments.
Sometimes we offer God liturgies of disregard,
litanies of selves made too big.
But we hear faint reminders of
a better way.
+ W. Brueggeman, “Well Arranged Lives”
from Prayers for a Privileged People
I feel an increasing struggle as to what it means to be who we have each been called to be, but only in the context of a grander story, the story of the world, and even bigger than that, the story of God and what he has been all along and is now doing in the world.
It’s a struggle worth increasing struggle.
In London’s closing ceremony, all the pieces made the whole. All the pieces, faces, names, styles, dances, artists made a fascinating whole. They, with the opening ceremonies, told a story of the global mark made by individuals, groups, artists, authors, doctors, and stories. There were videos, moving sculptures, light shows…each only briefly, artistically, dramatically and perfectly making their entrance, momentary dance, and exit from the stage.
In sharp contrast to the awe-inspiring show of Beijing’s ceremonies, the spectacle was made in different ways. Beijing had the lights and the smoke and the choreography and the music, but no names, no celebrated players, no celebrated individuals making celebrated marks. A show can be made without characters, but a story cannot be told. Something no doubt was missing. But the celebration of only individuals, often our problem in the West, leaves a similar emptiness.
But a single story told by the voices of many characters… One story of humanity trying its best, with glimpses and mumblings––like the olympics––to tell a single story well together. A story of individuals making marks on a bigger storyline being written of what God is doing in and for and with the world.
Till kingdom comes.