Today is yet another day of this chaotic week. The national news is overrun with bombings, shootings, explosions, and controversial political decisions over guns.
In Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq, there are more bombings, more attacks, more deaths. American troops are now in Jordan, staging for humanitarian aid in Syria, but also a rocket’s path away from that civil war.
We are so interconnected, so aware now of such violence, such chaos and uncertainty. Our technology and our mass media culture now brings such events into our living rooms, into our pants pockets, as we seem to be compelled to check on the state of the world in a spare moment.
I turn off the TV. I can’t stand the instant news, the hours of rehashing, and dramatizing, and speculation. My blood pressure goes up, and there’s a knot in my stomach. My sense of powerlessness and frustration gets tossed into the energies of the commentators, the marketers of “crisis” and “terror” and catastrophe.
A friend of mine tells me that he gets anxious about a lot of things in life, that he’s a worry wort, and has to consciously avoid “catatrophizing” much of life’s concerns. When I watch the “instant news” channel, it seems like a flash mob of “catastrophizers”.
That is not how I want to live my life, and to get through my day, and be a healthy human being. I have decided not to be part of that “flash mob”, and I click off the offending noise and chaos that has filled my living room.
I soak up the peace, when the TV goes silent. I look around for a bit of beauty, maybe pick up my guitar and strum a song. But, the craziness of the events in Boston and all the rest of the news still tightens up my shoulders, still nags at me.
Yet, how do I respond? How do I react? It is not like I can change the outcome of bombs in Boston, or the national epidemic of gun-related homicides in this country, or even the violence in my own community.
Or can I? Certainly I have a big voice in how I go about my life, and I would like to think I have a big impact on people in my family, my neighborhood, even the emotional atmosphere of the line at the grocery store, or the post office, or the place I had lunch with a friend yesterday.
I’m just one guy. But, I do interact with others during the day. I have conversations, I conduct a little business, I say hi to folks I know around town. I put stuff up on Facebook and my blog. I chat with the guy who fills up my gas tank, and tell him thanks, and ask how he’s doing. And, then, I really listen to what he has to say. We connect, and we have a real conversation. And, that doesn’t take a whole lot of effort. It’s part of my job as a member of my community.
In all of that, I can set an example, and I can give out a sense of compassion and peaceful living, and I can listen. My little efforts may not change the world overnight, and the Nobel Peace Prize committee may not be reading all of my blog posts and finding out my phone number.
But, I can create a little peace in this world, and that little bit of peace can spread out, and be the ripple in the pond of how we all interact.
Yesterday, I joked and laughed with an old friend, and we gave each other some ideas on how we each can grow and change, and become more skilled in the arts of peacemaking, listening, and compassion. I’m going to try out some new things, and I found a class that would help me be a better member of the community, of being of better service to others.
I’m planting my garden, I’m playing my guitar, I’m sending a poem to several young men to give them some inspiration, and let them know, again, that I care about them, and that they have amazing possibilities in their lives.
Last night, one of the young men I’m mentoring in prison called. He’s getting out soon, and will, for the first time in his life, be out in the world, looking for a job, and being a healthy member of society. He’s worried about all the changes, and all the responsibility. And, he’s worried about how he’s going to manage all of that, and to deal with a lot of his anger that has been simmering in his soul most of his life.
He isn’t one to come right out and talk about his worries, and his anxiety, but it is there, right below the surface.
So, we talked, and he told me more about himself, and what he is doing to prepare for being in the world, and the things he’s looking forward to. It wasn’t a deep, soul changing conversation, but it was a conversation. I listened. I cared. I told him I worry about him and that I’d be with him on that day the prison door slams behind him and he can make his own way in the world.
I could hear in his voice that not too many people listen to him, or even care that he is getting out of prison soon. But, I cared, and I listened. And, when we ended our call, I could tell he’d unwound, he felt better about himself and he felt he mattered to someone. We have a deeper friendship now. We have a better connection.
One phone call may not heal the pain that Boston is going through, or stop someone from planning to detonate a bomb in the middle of a sporting event, and kill and maim innocent people.
But, maybe, just maybe, that phone call, that listening, that caring will move a young man away a bit from the anger and rage that simmers in a young man, and give him hope to seek a life of compassion, and usefulness, and even joy.
Knowing that someone cares, that someone listens to him might be what he needs to be able to vent his rage and his anger through his art or his music, or in going for a long run along the river, instead of making a pressure cooker bomb and setting it off in the middle of his community.
And, maybe, that is a bit of peacemaking that I can bring to the world today.
--Neal Lemery April 19, 2012