You can’t unsee things. I would not have chosen to see that picture of the baby on the beach, but it popped up on my screen when a well-meaning friend put it on Facebook. I can’t scratch it out of my brain, and the more I try to unsee it, the more it appears, unbidden. Yesterday, it appeared in my head as I was playing in the water with my own children. A sudden chill overtook me, left me gasping, barely able to restrain myself from reaching out and grabbing my own laughing children, to pull them both from the water to safety. When I was in college, I had a series of nightmares about seriously injured children asking me for help, and I couldn’t help them. I could swear that this very image was in those dreams.
Other layers of worry catch me, too–the thought of all my shining teenagers with their phones, slipping like swimmers through the waters of the images that appear there, stumbling upon horror and gore: the world’s realities that they will not be able to unsee. How will a photo of a drowned child compound their anxieties, their despairs, their rage? How will such a picture drown their sense of safety and holiness and wonder about the world around them?
I want to know about the troubles of the world. I think we need to, if we are to participate in the Work of changing the world. I think my students need to know that we do not live in a perfect world–they, too, will need the information in order to become participants with us in the business of creating a more just and compassionate future. Still, I do not want to see them stumbling into these terrifying boundary-lands. I do not want to wander here myself.
Yesterday, during our Staff Development Day at LMS, historian John Roth (our input speaker for the day) told a story of an Amishman quizzing a group of Mennonites about television.
“How many of you own a TV?” he asked. Every hand went up.
“How many of you think you probably watch too much TV?” Again, every hand went up.
“How many of you think that your children watch too much TV?” Every hand.
“How many of you will go home today and get rid of your televisions?” Nobody raised a hand.
I am not ready to simply accept the inevitability that my children will be witness to murder and tragedy via the screens that surround us. I don’t want to accept that inevitability for my students, either, though I have less influence on that sphere.
I don’t know how to end this, how to wrap it up. The loose ends are all over the place. Pandora’s box is virtual, but it’s been opened, and a host of terrors and rages and sadnesses have been unleashed upon us.
After all that, I need a
1. That box of yarn that came in the mail today. Watching how the boys couldn’t keep their hands off it, how they immediately developed projects and plans for the different balls of yarn. One small boy is planning to weave many, many little patches that he will sew together into a woven blanket. The other made me show him how to crochet.
2. Music. One boy is learning cello for the orchestra and trombone for the band. And after my rant about technology, I must also note that I am grateful for the ability to use a computer program that helps him to listen for the pitch.
3. Monarchs. I saw two adults today, and two caterpillars.
4. Yesterday’s John Roth lectures on Teaching to Transform. His final point of the day was an eloquent examination of a spiritual practice that I call Holding the Bowl of the Heart, and that he called something like Being Attentive to the Beauty of Holiness. It’s about expansively opening oneself to wonder and awe, compassion and love, while recognizing that for humans, these experiences are intermixed with death and grief and shame and anger. So one holds them all together, with an attentive awareness that both sides of experience inform and shape each other. Beauty is another of my names for God.
5. Quartz and kyanite, garnet and serpentine.
May we walk in Beauty.