It’s a hard summer here in the world. The New York Times reported today that in the past two weeks–that’s weeks, not years or decades–247 people have been killed in eight terror attacks.
This destruction of human life hits me like a punch in the stomach. I find that the news affects me like that this year–perhaps because it’s more terrible.
Or perhaps it’s always been terrible, but now it’s terrible more often.
Or it’s more terrible closer to home, which makes us more afraid.
More than feeling afraid, though, I find myself, on a pretty regular basis, fighting not to feel hopeless. So much anger. So much murder. So much hatred. Some days, every headline is a horror. What can we do? How can we fix this? How can I help? I ask myself these questions endlessly.
And so often lately, my answer to myself is: I can’t do a thing. Anything within my power to accomplish is miniscule, microscopic, utterly ineffective in the face of such monumentally bad news. I begin to question my usefulness in this world, the usefulness of my work with children and teachers, my faith in writing and the arts to act as a beacon of civilization, in the sense of teaching us to be civilized, in the sense of teaching us not to slaughter each other in our intolerant rage. I remember my extraordinary grad school professor reminding us that the Nazis were educated, cultured, civilized. That they murdered millions and went home in the evenings to listen to Wagner. That the arts guarantee nothing when it comes to civilization.
In short, I come very close to despair on a fairly regular basis these days.
And then I hear a story about the acts of a truly kind soul, like the one last week about the construction worker who built an eight foot-tall Waldo figure out of wood, and he hides it every day in the construction site beside a children’s hospital so that the kids can look out the windows and play Where’s Waldo in real life. He doesn’t despair at their life-threatening illnesses; he found a way to give them a little joy each day.
And then I see good people swimming hard against the tide of hatred, like the people in Orlando who, the day after the massacre at the Pulse nightclub, stood in line for hours, in the sweltering Florida sun, to give blood for the victims. They didn’t despair at the horrifying tragedy; they found a way to address it by giving of their own bodies.
And then I come to my senses. And I remember that every act of kindness, every gesture of caring, does matter. As every horrible act blasts out shock waves that shatter even those who are only slightly connected to the atrocity, so every decent act sends out its own ripples in the pond of humanity, impacting people who impact others, spreading the impact far beyond the initial splash of goodness.
As the act of terror sows fear, the act of kindness spreads hope. Even to those feeling hopeless, even to such as me. Even to such as you, if you need a little hope in these difficult days.
So don’t despair. Don’t stop doing good things for each other. Don’t pull up the drawbridge, don’t pile the furniture in front of the door. Reach out, even to one other person. Be kind, even to one other person. Find a way to help, even a tiny way, even if you’re not sure it will help. That’s fighting the good fight. That’s spreading hope. That’s working for peace.
That will save the world.
Photo by Shailesh padalkar (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons