My heart breaks with Charlottesville. I am still grieving Charleston and so many other sites of senseless violence. Hate crimes wound us all.

Why? How? What to do? Many questions. Few answers.

I’m blessed and cursed to not be able to put senseless tragedies like this out of mind or pretend that they don’t affect me. The media plays out such stories around the clock, and it’s hard to escape the news. But the remains of news–all too often–is superficial–like scum on the sands of the beach that will be swept away when a new tide brings in the next bad thing.

Let’s not adapt to this being normal.

I don’t want to forget. These stories pierce me.

Last week I wrote about what it’s like to hear stories of strangers (through the remarkable Story Bridge process) and bring them into your heart.

Interconnection is the truth of this world. You and I carry the world within us. That means, unfortunately, that I carry both villains and saints within me, perpetrators and healers, or at least the capacities for both violence and love.

I learned, exploring my genealogy in a stack of dusty papers provided me by a southern relative, that my  great, great, great somewhat removed uncle owned slaves. Does that fact live in my genes? When I worked in Africa, I always felt a strong affinity. Would genome testing prove that I carry Africa in my genes? And when I get so stirred up hearing about someone who denies the Holocaust, has abused a woman or child, or attacks gays, a gut level rage swells up too deep to be just a reaction to the news. Is it because of genetics? Family history? Sensitivity to the world? Or maybe past lives? I don’t know.

We are interconnected and we are responsible for ourselves as individuals. Both/and.

As I look outward, I also look into my heart to see what forces of hate, cruelty, entitlement, unconsciousness toward others, or judgmentalism I carry in me. None of us are off the hook for carrying such forces within us, with the possible exception of a few saints or enlightened ones.

How to not adapt to mind-numbing news

I want to dig deeper. I am drawn again to the words of Etty Hillesum, a Jew who lived in Amsterdam during the Second World War. Etty’s life was one of rigorous study and courageous self-examination. She was destined, perhaps, to be a psychologist, when the Germans began to take her people away. Aware of what was happening, and knowing the fate that could (and did) befall her family and herself, she signed up to help in the Westerbrok detention camp. From there she wrote some profoundly beautiful letters, still relevant for these times.

Etty was someone who could behold terror and still see wonder. She did not let the horrors numb her or keep her from writing.

She refused to adapt to this being the way of the world.

“The sky is full of birds, the purple lupins stand up so regally and peacefully, two little old women have sat down for a chat, the sun is shining on my face–and right before our eyes, mass murder… The whole thing is simply beyond comprehension.”

 

We human beings cause monstrous conditions, but precisely because we cause them we soon learn to adapt ourselves to them. Only if we become such that we can no longer adapt ourselves, only if, deep inside, we rebel against every kind of evil, will we be able to put a stop to it. …

while everything within us does not yet scream out in protest, so long will we find ways of adapting ourselves, and the horrors will continue.

 

I really see no other solution than to turn inwards and to root out all the rottenness there. I no longer believe that we can change anything in the world until we first change ourselves. And that seems to me the only lesson to be learned.

 

I don’t want to be anything special. I only want to try to be true to that in me which seeks to fulfill its promise.

 

Despite everything, life is full of beauty and meaning.”

 

I try to remember that as I pick a fresh raspberry. There’s still room to nourish wonder. But not hate.