Amid tragedy, making time to get to know others
Posted July 14, 2016
It seems we can’t go more than a few days without another tragedy striking our country and the world.
The issues are escalating: racism, gun violence, religious hatred, poverty and government oppression.
I can’t pretend to relate to many of these issues. In my very middle-class suburban neighborhood with its carefully clipped lawns, the biggest problem we face is road repair.
I am aware, every day, that we live in a bubble. We are only a short drive from Falcon Heights, Minnesota, where Philando Castile was shot last week. We’re minutes from the violent freeway protests that rocked our state’s “Minnesota nice” image, but we might as well be living in a different country. Ours is a life of privilege and safety, big-box stores and small problems, at least when set against the current world climate.
I am also aware of how much I shelter my young children from this world, turning off NPR when they’re riding in the car, closing out my New York Times tab every time they get on my phone or computer, flipping the top fold of the newspaper facedown and handing them the sports section.
I’m not proud of these actions, and yet as there is a seismic shift underfoot in our country, I feel it is my job as a mother to stabilize. And so I am cautious with how much of this dark world to share, and I recognize that the choice of keeping it from them is a privilege.
I don’t know what to do, so I will tell you a story:
The other day, I dropped my son off at a friend’s house. The friend's grandparents were in town from India, and they greeted me and offered me a cup of tea. But the car was idling, I had Target returns in the trunk of my minivan and I needed milk from the grocery store, so I declined.
When I went to pick up my son a few hours later, the grandparents invited me in again.
“Have lunch with us,” they said. And again I politely said, “no, no,” we have an appointment.
Which was true, which is always true. I am always booked to the max. There is always someplace to go and so many important things on my to-do list. I am always leaving or arriving, in a state of constant motion.
And in light of all that was happening, all the tragedy unfolding, the fact that I was too busy for lunch, too busy to sit and make a new connection and learn from new friends who live half a world away, deeply unsettled me.
We try to pin tragic events on a single flaw in society, rushing off to analyze the American psyche with a magnifying glass: Is it the breakdown of the family? Public education? Violence on television? Religious extremism, smartphones, social media, consumerism, McDonald’s?
Why this sudden spiraling out of control? How did we become a nation unhinged? Was it always there, dormant like a cicada, waiting for an inciting moment before it could unfurl its wings and fill the air with noise? Is all humanity teetering on the edge of collapse?
All I know, and I don’t know much, is that, when invited, I need to make time for tea. And for lunch. To slow down. To listen more and talk less. To mourn with those that mourn. To make space for the outcast, the homeless, the marginalized, but also the next-door neighbor and the child at my feet.
Especially the child at my feet, because she is the future, and I must teach her: to love others, to look beyond the color of a person’s skin and the way they dress and the way they talk. They may wear a hijab or a yarmulke, a brightly woven sari or a prayer cap. They may worship Allah or Jehovah or Krishna or Jesus Christ. They may stutter when they talk, or live on a street corner, but every person on Earth should be given the same chance at a decent life. Every person deserves a kind word, safety, love.
We may, in our small lives, feel there is nothing we can do to instigate change. I carry that burden every day. And it may be true, but I don’t believe it. The great leaders and prophets and historic figures such as Christ, Gandhi and Mother Teresa had it right: It starts with the one.
It starts with us.
Tiffany Gee Lewis runs the website Raise the Boys at raisetheboys.com, dedicated to rearing creative, kind, courageous and competent boys. Follow it on Instagram and Twitter at raisetheboys. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org