Wednesday, September 03, 2014

tragedy, humility, sauerkraut

A raccoon is on my roof eating Asian pears. It is dark, and everyone is asleep—besides me and the raccoon. Every once and awhile a pear drops with a thud and then I hear a scamper or a dragging sound. In the morning there will be half-eaten Asian pears on the ground. It is also garbage night, which means that every hour or so a car pulls up in front of our house and someone pokes around in the bins at the curb. In Manhattan people did this all the time, pushing grocery carts heaped with black bags of cans and bottles, like a troupe of homeless Santa Clauses moving along the trash-bag piled sidewalk. I recognized the regulars. But I haven't gotten used to it here. Should I stick my head out the door and say hello, as a security measure of sorts? Or—more reasonably—let them delve in peace?

Tomorrow is the first day of school. A cute little school with cute kids and well-dressed parents, the teachers kind and friendly. Everyone speaking French, unsnobbishly. I will drive my children, with their lunchboxes packed with healthy food, in their well-chosen clothes, to their white-and-yellow private French school. And then I will get a latte. Meanwhile the world is in horrible, horrible shape. Iraq! Ukraine! Gaza! Ebola! For a few weeks I refused to register the events in Ferguson, Missouri because there was just no room for them in my head. Sorry, glass full of tragedy already. I am having a hard time reconciling my life with the world at large. I am fretting over the ingredients in the seaweed snack packs, the too-largeness of of kids' yogurts containers, what kinds of grasscloth roller shades to purchase; meanwhile people are being beheaded. Worse things. I suppose this has always been the case? I fret about my little problems while somewhere else people are fleeing for their lives, hiding their children in garbage cans.

I could just cry. Which I do to little end. What can I do? The atrocities of ISIS are beyond my circle of influence, though clearly not beyond my circle of anxiety. A few weeks ago our priest circulated a letter written by the metropolitan entitled A Pastoral Letter Concerning Violence and Extremism in the Middle East. I read the letter, which may be a first for me. OK, I didn't even read it, I skimmed it, but for long enough to find this:
If we are truly concerned about the strife in the world today, let us begin by overcoming anger in our own hearts by striving for meekness and humility. If we are upset by the violence and destruction in the Middle East, let us direct our energy to bring peace to the conflicts within our own families. If we are horrified by images of human beings injuring and killing one another, let us offer an image of Christ by giving alms to those in need in our own neighborhood.
That's the spirit. I'm not pretending that I come anywhere near this in practice. I can think of a few ways I could have overcome anger in my heart and been more humble in the last few days, heck, the last few hours. But I can take sausage and sauerkraut to my Dad. I can read my children the same book for the fifteenth time. I can sit with my son when his anger overtakes him. I can let my daughter wear pink and purple together. I can be patient when Charles and I have yet another of those conversations where we seem to be talking entirely past each other about the same exact thing for five minutes. I can feed raccoons; I can stop fretting about trash-pickers, grasscloth shades, seaweed snacks. I can be grateful for the good life that's been given to me.

Because it is a good life. And of course, there are some things I can do:

ACRO Mosul Appeal
Samaritan's Purse


Jenny said...


I just love this post, most especially the first line which is worthy of a prize. But also, the whole sentiment, I relate to so much. The passage you chose for the end is also excellent. And you know what? I truly think it is okay to turn off the radio every now and then. I can only tolerate certain details about ISIS and also violence against children generally. I try to get just enough information to pray through the outlines without becoming overwhelmed.

Manuela Thames said...

Amber, I can relate so much to this post. The other day I was driving in my car to pick up Lukas from school. I was by myself and turned on the news in the radio. I listened to it for a while, but after hearing the words "beheadings", "rape" and other expressions representing the evil that's happening in this world right now, I felt like puking, my hands were shaking and I pushed the button to turn it off. I parked the car and had to stay quiet for a while to collect myself. I also wanted to cry. That's how the news affect me these days and I am avoiding them as much as I can.
How can anyone process all this information?
We can't and we don't have to. I like Jenny's advice to only take as much in to pray without becoming overwhelmed. What else is there to do but pray?
Thanks for your post, Amber.

Julia said...

Hi Amber. I'm late reading this. Recently the BBC covered a story about the changes that have happened in a neighborhood in what was formerly East Germany-- how the neighborhood went from being a sort of bohemian artists' neighborhood under communism, to a now prosperous, thriving and gentrified neighborhood under capitalism. They interviewed some residents who had spent half their life in the former and then the other half of their life in the latter. I love what they said. They talked about how in the difficult times, everyone was asking existential, difficult questions about life, and the neighborhood was poor, but colorful and interesting. Now, the neighborhood is more comfortable, but more boring. One man said that in the absence of real problems, people start inventing fake problems, like which kind of water to drink. It really does sound pretty pathetic. And it's often what I think about the situation of living in America and raising kids here. It's like, you can't buy a lunch box for your kids without reading thirty product reviews about durability and whether a bento container will fit properly into the bottom with what ice pack, etc. When I take a step back, I just feel a little sick. I often think how much I'd like to get my children out of America for at least a portion of their childhood so that we can stop arguing about things like toys and tv shows. Anyway-- I'm probably projecting a lot of my own thoughts onto your blog post. Maybe I'll just start my own new blog in the comment section of your blog. Ha ha. But seriously, I do relate to this perfectly. We are where we are, and we have to bear with the sufferings and burdens of our life as it is: even if sometimes (I often think) that the burden I carry is, simply put, having a gracious attitude in the face of pettiness upon pettiness, and also carrying the awareness of the sufferings of others in my heart.

A M B E R said...

Julia, please do continue your blog in my comments section!! That would be great for everyone! oxo