I always ask, in my bleary state, for my children to tell me about the dreams that startle them awake and scare them enough to call me in. Hopefully telling them out loud can help us let them go or find a new way to finish them. Sometimes we look for reassurances in our waking world for what we would do if ever in the situation our dream presented.
Earlier yesterday on our way to Tae Kwon Do (for my daughter) and wrestling practice (for my son), I told them that two bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. I knew they would hear things at school. I think it is better if they hear it from me so they have a space where it is ok to feel whatever it is they feel.
My daughter is eight. And I decided not to tell her last night before she went to bed that one of the dead was a little boy named Martin who was also eight. I wanted her to rest, to feel at least a little safer than she would if she took in that added layer of vulnerability.
The nightmare that woke her was about “that Boston thing” she told me when I got to her room after she called out in the night.
“We were at that Boston thing. And you were hurt. And I didn’t know how to help you and all the hospitals were full.”
Her eight -ear old nightmare told the story of a different kind of vulnerability than I had tried to protect her from at the beginning of that night. Her worry was not “will I be safe” but “will I know how to help? Will I know what to do and where to go? And what if the things I have learned to do don’t work? And what if the person who is usually the one who helps me is the one who needs help?”
Isn’t her question really one of the hardest for us to ask ourselves? Her’s was not “why” but “how”? How do I go on living in this world such as it is? And this question is one that reverberates and circulates for so many who live with grief, with pain, with anguish, with danger, with illness, with an awareness of how brutal life can be. The hardest questions are: How do I keep on living in this world? As lonely as I am? As much as I hurt? As hard as it is to feel good? As difficult as it is to just do simple things because of chronic pain?
The more the gunshots ring through schools and the bombs penetrate places of celebration, worship, and everydayness, the more people collectively lift our eyes and take in the truth that violence is ALWAYS a violation of someone’s place/space/life/sacredness. Violence is most often perpetrated by intimates. The more we take in how many people are not safe in their own homes, in their most primary relationships, in their neighborhoods, in their schools, the more the question of “how do I live in this world” becomes the most pressing. Because when we are most present to the pain of the world, the question that bubbles up is not “why me” but, “why not me.”
To have felt somehow isolated from violence, to have felt removed or out of harm’s way is an illusion that only privilege can cultivate. The vulnerability that Americans felt after 9-11 is the same vulnerability that tragedies like Newtown and now Boston rekindle. The harder reality is that this kind of vulnerability is the normal mode of operation of many scores of people all around the world. From countries become battle fields to the constant stress of racial profiling for racialized groups, from domestic violence, rape, and incest to unsafe work places and cancer causing toxins in the world around us, human frailty is something you may try to run from, but no one can hide.
How? How do we live in such a broken and brutal world?
When I was holding my daughter in the dark, listening to her tell her dream, the thing that came to me was courage–that word that cultivates strength, resolve, perseverance, belief, even hope. Courage is a word born from the heart, literally drawing its meaning from the French word for heart, coeur. Courage is a way of existing in the world that takes fear into account and decides to not let it win. And courage comes from a place of deep affection, caring, even passion for something better, something more beautiful, something more loving. This brutal world can harden hearts just as sure as we still have a pulse, but courage says I will not harden, I will care, I will find a way to love and to live.
The conditions are more and more ripe for fear to achieve a choke hold among those who thought they were safe, but now realize they are not. All the worst tendencies that make some groups try to sequester themselves away from the world’s pain and peril get fed in the aftermath of something like the bombings yesterday. Already there are reports of some of the initial rumors feeding some of America’s most distorted stereotypes–a black man with a foreign accent and a black back pack, a Saudi man who was running from the scene. So often these symbols of the fear of a privileged nation rear their heads as we try to make sense of what happened and we try to distance ourselves from the problems that gave rise to what happened. We have no idea yet who did this and there are several possibilities that could play out, including that the perpetrator could be a white American, like Timothy McVeigh or Eric Rudolph. Violence is not simply the habit of “the other” but a very American one, too. How we choose to heal our own violent habits is a much harder task than trying to lock ourselves away from the ones many find it so easy to blame.
I whispered to my daughter about courage in the night. I told her that if she’s ever in that situation she will find help around her in ways that may be new or even unexpected. I told her about all the people who found ways to help in Boston, even people who didn’t plan on having to help that way. I told her she would have the courage to be one of those people.
My daughter’s nightmare invites us all into the shadows of our own worst fears—whatever they may be. How do we live in this kind of world where the worst things can happen and sometimes do? May we let courage be what defines us in these times. Courage from the heart, the space within us still supple enough to be moved to tears and to stumble toward the one who needs us there with whatever we have to give.