I sat last night as the news from Paris rolled in, my heart feeling heavier with every click. Earlier in the week, my city was stunned when a young, pregnant mom was shot in the head in an apparently random home invasion. She lived and died in the part of town where I live, a few short miles away. I could feel the panic rising in my city – young, beautiful blonde pastor’s wives aren’t supposed to be gunned down in their own homes in the early morning – as the collective reach for security began.
But I don’t think we can have that. We can always take steps to make ourselves safer, but they guarantee nothing. We remain in this world at the pleasure of fate. (I understand some think it’s the pleasure of God, and I’m in no mood to argue about that, especially since it changes nothing about the reality.) In the end, we have little say, little input into the question, and little control.
But the human heart still feels stirred to action when the world proves – yet again – that it is often a terrible and jagged place. It has been so forever, and I genuinely believe it is less so today than ever before in its history. But seeing masses of people cut down is no less tragic because it happens less frequently and for different reasons than four centuries ago. And we cannot ever forget that some people in this world live with the constant specter of violence. We are by no means finished as a species. We’ve just managed to create a few enclaves where these things feel like a shock.
The problem, as Anne Lamott said, is that we were born at all.
Last night I felt drawn to go upstairs and immerse myself in a project I’ve been working on, an editing of hundreds of images I’ve taken in the last four years. Today I will focus on some volunteer work I’ve been doing for a few years now. Then I’ll make more fabric art.
The only thing I know to do, as a person watching another human tragedy unfold, is to dive straight into what is good in the world, and pass it along. Or alternatively, to dive straight into what’s wrong in the world, and try to transform it in whatever small way I can. Today I’ll cast my lot with the forces of resilience, beauty and, I hope, gentleness. I see friends pushing forward in the same way. One is baking gourmet German food to encourage donations to an animal shelter. One is singing, and adding beautiful sound to the world. Others are out shopping for Christmas for kids who are not their own, but who have nothing.
That we can do these things, still, is an undeniable luxury. But also, perhaps, an obligation. There are people in Paris whose job today will be to absorb the crushing blow of lost loved ones and fellow citizens. In my own town, there is a pastor whose job is to grieve the loss of his wife and raise his toddler, whose mother is gone forever. That’s not the character of my work today. But it may be someday, because I live in the same uneven, unpredictable world.
My father used to tell me to “brighten the corner where you are.” That’s the only way I know to act in the aftermath of something like Paris; to keep going, to keep pushing for something better, and to love every moment you’re doing it. Because there may not be another one. We can’t keep ourselves safe from everything. But we can control what we do with the moment we’ve been given.