The East High School gym was filled with Samsonite card tables from various eras dug out of basements and garages and covered with white paper, and high school seniors and their parents drinking orange juice from Dixie Cups and pale lukewarm coffee in Styrofoam and eating sweet rolls. At 7:30 in the morning, the din of the senior awards breakfast was deafening. My middle son Daniel was among the honorees. The two of us shared a rickety table with Dan’s classmate Michael and his dad, Jack. People, movement, sound, light, energy was all around me.
I was inside my own bubble looking out. When Jack asked, “So, how are you, Becky? Things good at the church?” it took me a moment to process the thought that I should respond. What I said was, “My mother died last night.” My words fell like a cinder block. The four of us were startled by them. It wasn’t clear our little table could support their sudden weight.
How odd it was to me that the world was going on so normally, and that I and Daniel and the rest of our family would be going about such normal-life things. I’d never before lived a day without my mother being alive. I’d lived most of my adult life hundreds of miles away from Mom, and we weren’t the kind of mother and daughter who talked to each other on the phone all the time. But always, always, my whole life she’d been there. And now, not suddenly, because her death had been a long time coming, and not surprisingly, because we had been keeping vigil and caring for her as she labored into eternal life for weeks by that time, now she was simply, gone. It was an odd, disorienting feeling.
The memory of that morning, of my feelings nine years ago returned earlier this week and linger here. Out on the deck this ridiculously pleasant Saturday morning in mid-August in Nebraska, it is so beautiful I thought, “Even my Colorado cousins can’t beat this perfection.” But, just under the surface of that thought I am disoriented. Despite all the immediate surrounding evidence to the contrary, all is not well. The perfect breeze, the ideal temperature, the green, green trees and blue, blue sky belie the heavy truth. Our nation is in trouble. Our churches are in trouble. Our neighbors are in trouble.
Vulnerable people all around the world have been in trouble always, but, this week, every week this past year, more and more of those whom I know and love who had been less vulnerable than the most vulnerable are feeling more and more threatened, more and more afraid. Immigrant friends, brown friends, gay friends, Muslim friends, and now Jewish friends—can it really be that in 2017 in the U.S.A. on Saturday morning a week ago a congregation at worship was menaced by Neo-Nazis wielding automatic weapons?
Out of the blue the other night a friend from far away texted me, “Are you concerned for your safety?” His reason for asking was different than my reason for replying a hesitant, simple, “Yes.”
I almost flunked the Rorschach ink-blot test when I took the battery of psychological tests required by the church before sending missionaries overseas back in my twenties. There was some image in which almost any sentient human being sees a gun, but Pollyanna me, I saw something completely innocuous instead. A night in my forties spent curled up in the fetal position bracing for the possibility I could be shot cured me of any lingering naiveté about how vulnerable all of us truly are to each other. One hurting, unglued human can wreak havoc.
I know that now. And now we see the evidence there are myriads of hurting humans among us and some of them are coming unglued. It hasn’t happened suddenly and it shouldn’t be a surprise.
We have to process this thought; it’s time for each of us to respond. It’s time to speak up for those who are threatened, even if that means we may be threatened, too. It’s time to pray and to bravely unleash the power of love. Maybe there’s still time to make whole that which and those who are coming unglued around us.