Thursday, July 28, 2016

"When they go low, we go high"

I've had a hard time collecting my thoughts this summer. Writing has been harder than usual. The world has been harder than usual. I don't have to recap every instance of violence, hatred, and anger that's taken place this summer...this now it's part of our wounded national psyche. 

In the midst of it, my husband's mother died. She has been my mother for 20 years, my children's grandmother. And she has been my friend, someone I often turned to when things didn't make sense. For two weeks I walked through this very hard world wondering why it just didn't stop for a few days. Just stop! I needed to sit still and grieve, I needed time to remember happier moments with her and time to talk with my kids about very big concepts like hospice care, death, heaven. 

Yet even in those weeks, more instances of violence, hatred, anger filled the news, cycled endlessly through social media, office conversation, personal correspondence. Just stop, world. STOP. As I drove home from my in-laws' house, feeling numb and sad, I turned on NPR. News of the Dallas shootings broke and I muttered aloud, "When will the asteroids come?" My son looked across the front seat at me with wide, scared eyes.

Asteroids, people. I was wishing for asteroids. And my child heard me.

We were walking around a crowded festival when news of the Orlando shooting broke in June. As the headline scrolled across my phone, for the first time in a very long time, I felt fear. Deep, halting fear. I looked at my sons walking next to me on a bright, beautiful summer day...and wondered how I can possibly keep them safe in this world. There is so much anger. Seething. Fuming. Boiling. And no matter who you talk to, what words you choose, you're likely to set someone off. 

Current discourse patterns send the message that this is okay, that accusing and blaming are more effective than listening. People voice their outrage from behind a keyboard, quickly and without forethought. Often we just re-post words written by someone else. We're all trying to be the first to out-snark each other --- or worse, to actually wound with our words. We rarely allow others to explain their views before we jump all over them. "I am right, you are wrong, therefore you are my enemy," has become the norm. Which snowballs the anger, which powers the blame and hate. And it's scary. Scarier to me even than asteroids.

I started to curl up, turned away from social media and TV and into my books for self-preservation. I kept opening my journal to write, but eked out only a couple lines at a time (when have I ever been at a loss for words?!). 

But in the deep quiet Monday night, I turned on the television for company, just as Michelle Obama took the stage at the Democratic National Convention. Now, if you're my friend or have read this blog in the past, you know how much I admire Michelle Obama; she's the reason I changed my mind in 2008 and voted for her husband. This evening as always, she stood tall and spoke slowly, with conviction and powerful language -- not naming names, but deliberately pointing to the issues weighing on my heart. "We have a family motto," she said. "When they go low, we go high." 

Yes. Yes. YES. Something clicked in my head. Tears spilled over my cheeks. Goosebumps stood on my arms. 

I remembered to hope. 

Hope is a powerful thing, y'all. It's not really a feeling, and it's more than pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking. Hope is belief. It's expectation of better things. It's faith that things will be better. Hope is the older sister of Courage, the daughter of Love and the granddaughter of Grace. She holds our hand and pulls us forward even when the shadows loom large. 

I want to be a hoper, not an asteroid-wisher. I want to be a model of peace, a level-headed speaker of truth, a good listener who values opinions before shutting them down. I want to focus my eyes on hope for this country that I love, hope that my friends and neighbors can find a way to communicate thoughtfully and respectfully. I want to work for social justice, use my voice and my privilege to make change for those whose voices are muffled. I want to give hugs freely. I do not want to dwell in negativity nor give anger a place in my heart. I choose to go high. 

There are a lot of things wrong with America right now. But hope is what's right. I choose hope over fear, love over hate, and action over complicity. I choose to go high.