About an hour before hearing about the Boston bombing I read this horrific article about the hunger strikers of Guantanamo Bay: Gitmo is Killing Me (more information). It was so horrific that I needed to read it in three segments because I couldn't stomach it all at once. From there I went on to read this article about a girl who recently committed suicide after news of her rape was spread over the Internet: Rape Culture Claims Another Victim. From there I read an article about 30 civilians killed at an Afghan wedding when a U.S. bomb missed its target: U.S. Bomb Kills 30. And, then, I signed on to Facebook and see statuses of friends saying they are okay, or saying they are terrified, or saying they just barely missed the blast. I quickly went online to see what was going on in Boston and discovered 3 people died, many others were injured, even more were terrified, and countless people were working to help the victims.
I quickly became overwhelmed by humanity. I have such a love/hate relationship with humanity, this beautiful, powerful, organism I'm a part of. Yes, it is wonderful that people are helping in Boston. Yes, it is amazing that people tore down the fences and ran to the aid of the victims without worrying about other potential blasts. Yes, it's wonderful that the world is mourning in solidarity for those who were affected by the bombs.
But that doesn't settle me. These things should not be happening.
The Boston bombing is on the front page of international news sources while it is difficult to find information about the 30 civilians who lost their lives at a wedding on the same day. I'm not saying that the Boston bombing is less significant than the one in Afghanistan, but it does trouble me that the world comes to a halt when a bombing goes off in one part of the world and not another.
A few days ago I watched this short documentary about Syria: Everyday Syria. What is most devastating about this film are the reactions of families who are so familiar with bombs falling that as they are trying to evacuate they are looking for mismatched shoes and taking moments to light cigarettes if their community had not just been turned to rubble. Kids seemed unfazed by what was happening around them. Mothers were trying to get their belongings gathered, and get all the kids out the door. Yes, there was panic and yes, the mothers whose children were trapped or dying were mourning, but the ease at which the community moved into crisis mode is unnatural. Whereas lines of ambulances immediately made their way to the Boston Marathon, there were few trucks and vans that were able to squish people in to take them to the hospital in Syria. Whereas the FBI and the police were mobilized in Boston, the Syrian community in this film had no assistance and didn't even have proper tools to dig people out of the rubble they were slowly being crushed beneath. People are too familiar with violence and instability and death.
Beyond these acts of violence, people are fighting wars each day. Wars against hunger, malaria, and dehydration. The UN reports that every year 2.6 million children under the age of 5 day as a result of hunger. 760, 000 children under 5 die each year to Diarrhea. 660, 000 people will die each year to Malaria. These numbers are too high to absorb.
And still, this doesn't touch so many other issues like slavery and abuse, or the catastrophes caused by climate change and a lack of natural resources. The world is struggling. It's hard to know where to begin or what to do.
I have a few friends who have strong faith in God. A God who is all powerful and all knowing and all good. A God that I tend to get very angry at whenever I begin to think about the problem of suffering.
My mind can't conceptualize how and why these things happen daily, and have been happening daily since the beginning of humanity. People say the human mind isn't capable of understanding the magnitude of God or the expanse of time. They say that we need to trust and have faith that God is bigger than all of this and that God will take care of it in the end. They say that the suffering of this world is so small in the scope of eternity and all that is, as if that makes it any better. They say there is a reason and we have free will and this is our doing.
None of that is enough for me. I may have a very immature concept of faith and God and goodness, but none of this settles well with me. It just makes me mad. This doesn't mean that I don't believe in God, but it does mean I struggle with God and I struggle with the traditional Christian concept of God. I want God to intervene because people certainly haven't figured out the solutions, and it doesn't look like we are going to anytime soon as we watch these things happen each day, some of which we choose to respond to and some we prefer to remain ignorant about. I don't understand the point of suffering or why it needs to go on for so long or why certain people seem to face more traumatizing suffering than others, often based on where one is born.
I get so angry and so overwhelmed. I hear these stories about the world and I don't understand how I got to be where I am while others are where they are. I wish so badly I could take the place of a prisoner in Guantanamo or a mother in Syria. These feelings make me even more sad and angry than I was in the first place. It isn't fair and it isn't right that I sit where I sit and have the freedom to do what I do, while so many others don't.
I have no answers, but I have amazing people in my life, and they come at the perfect time.
When I was at APU I struggled a lot with the problem of suffering. I can remember a few particularly powerful conversations I had about this with friends. Johnny, the male version of me according to a bunch of weird psychology tests, and I took several religion classes together. He often questioned the same things I questioned and he was often as frustrated as I was. He would calm down much quicker than I would and often had a lot more wisdom than I did, but he understood my struggles. I haven't heard from him in a long time, and then the other day he sent me an email that had been in his drafts for the past two years. It came at the perfect time. It was about his understanding of faith and suffering and God. It was reassuring and calming. It soothed my anger and sorrow. He is an example of a good person who makes a conscious effort to give back to the world. He strives to experience the world to the fullest and through this he lets the world transform him. He is in dialogue with what he believes and what he does. When there is tension within him, he takes the initiative to give up what he is familiar with and push himself to new places of growth and understanding. During this time, he reminds me that it's okay to question and wrestle and at the end of the day trusting in something good and strong and beautiful allows us to live more rightly.
Rebekah has one of the strongest faiths I've ever seen. It's uninhibited and passionate. Every interaction she has with people is a demonstration of pure love. She doesn't see societal restrictions and she lives without caution, which is the only way to change so many of the injustices that surround us. She always puts herself second to the needs of another, regardless of how well she knows someone, or if she knows them at all. She is a reminder that everyday people are changing the world in a positive way. These changes come from relationships and validation, the recognition of another's humanity. If we can all live as Rebekah lives, the world will be filled with less fear, judgment and aggression. During this time she gives me hope that people do have the power and wisdom to take care of each other.
Leah is bold and feisty. Like Rebekah she is fearless, and she doesn't back down. She is just and pure, and fights for what is right. She reminds me that every person has a story and every person has feelings, feelings that are their truth, feelings that deserve time and attention. She has a way of connecting to people that comes from a genuine interest in each person regardless of his/her background and/or beliefs. She is daring and does things most of us just talk about doing. She challenges me to listen and to act. She holds me accountable to who I say I want to be. She always has the courage to keep her faith amidst hardship or times of questioning. During this time I think about her living out her dream in Tanzania, living life with people she has a deep love for, striving to understand as much as she can about the people she interacts with every day. I wonder what the world would be like if we each invested so fully into the lives of the people who surround us just as Leah does.
These are not the only people who give me hope for the world, but they are three of the people who, through their beings, make me feel like everything will be okay. They make me feel like the problems of the world are manageable, that people are good and care, that it's okay to question and get mad, and that faith is quite the ride. It is through people like them, people we all know, people we all are, that fear and the violent consequences of fear can be overcome.