In response to tragedy, one of the best things we can do is celebrate life.
To me, summer is…
Sunshine, freedom, and iced tea.
Freckles and mosquito bites.
Sitting on the porch for hours with your favorite people.
Unbridled afternoons of gratuitous time for creativity.
Puppy dogs, grass stains, and laughter.
Relief that winter always ends, and triumph that we’re rewarded with summer.
Sweet, warm aromas from the finally flourishing garden.
Dirt under your fingernails, and blooming lilacs.
Picnics and using the rusty grill.
Time to pull out the old favorite books.
Trains, planes, and automobiles, visiting those we love and miss.
Space for quiet, and thoughts, and halting prayers.
Preparation for what may come.
Freer schedules, clearer roads, and something about the green, green world says “come delight in me!”
And I am happy to comply.
Sometimes, it doesn’t feel like its okay to celebrate life when there is so much darkness in the world.
There is much to grieve in the world. A great, great deal.
But let me confess something: I can’t grieve it all. I simply don’t have the capacity. Faced with tragedy after tragedy, my heart begins to become numb, and I can no longer respond to sad things with true sadness.
And I can no longer respond to joy with true Joy.
In Communications, they call it Compassion Fatigue. The weariness that comes with trying to respond to every tragedy presented to us. I am surely weary; three tragedies enough to fill my eyes with weary weeping happened in the last seven days. When my eyes are only turned to dark screens with dark stories, I find myself haunted by a nameless, faceless, placeless fear that lurks around every good moment.
I think the only way to fight the ugliness of our world, is to reject the nameless, faceless, placeless fear, and live by named, faced, and placed love.
Yes, the world at large is sad, but what of the world in front of us? How are we speaking order from chaos, rest from weariness, love from hate, comfort from grief into our gardens?
We have to learn to live well in this world, and I don’t think it will be accomplished by withering with fear and grief every time we open our newsfeeds. I believe our souls are meant to respond to such injustice and tragedy with grief. But we have more access to the sad things of the world than ever before. How do we live redeemed lives in a tattered world?
C.S. Lewis articulated this thought well when writing an essay in response to the question “How do we live in the age of the atomic bomb? When at any moment life might come to an end?” Here are the last words of his essay, “On living in an Atomic Age” (1948):
If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things – praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts – not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.
This summer I want to limit my attachment to the internet, so I can pour myself into the world around me.
I want to invest in real life this summer. The life in front of me. In people I can hug. Foods I can taste. A garden I can weed, and sew, and water. Even my little corner of the world is not free of its horrors and griefs, but these are mine. They have names, faces, and places. And I will care for them. I won’t be crushed by the griefs of the world I was never meant to carry. Don’t get me wrong, we should be informed. We should be upset. We should want things to change. Things in the world need to be changed. But I think real change doesn’t come from vague fear, but clear conviction. To be a force for good, we must be deeply connected with the realities in front of us, rather than only the void and clamor of the internet.
And that’s why I’ll look less at my newsfeed and more at my family.
I won’t stick my head in the sand, but I will stick my plow in the earth.
I wrote once that playing the saxophone (or loving apple cake) reminds us of our distinctive humanness; the real grief is when we lose our humanity and our ability to think of each other as human. I still think that’s true. I think one of the best things we can do in response to the dreadfulness of the world, is to celebrate and fearlessly defend the beauty of life. Do not bend to the fear and terror; celebrate and love. To proclaim the fact that lost life is a grief, because life is a beautiful gift.
Live a radical life, railing against the darkness, by doing, as Lewis so aptly put it, “sensible and human things.”
Perhaps only then we will truly be making a difference.
Have our neighbors over to dinner.
Feel the sprinkler-wet grass squish between our toes.
Marvel at the pink sunset.
Write a poem.
Pray at midnight.
That is summer to me.
That is a battle cry.
This is life.
This piece was originally published at Joyness the Brave.