I’ve often wondered if people living in a historically significant time know it while they’re living it. I’ve wondered if they see the story arc rising out of the smoke, the broken buildings, the damaged lives, or from the the victories, the great leadership moves, the acts of bravery and sacrifice.
I used to wonder if I was living in a time that would show up in history books as being remarkable. I read about all the significant moments textbooks could carry forward. I saw notable events in other parts of the world… the falling of a wall, the end of a regime. But in our own country, aside from ever-present political and economic tugs-of-war, all seemed merry and bright.
Then in 2001, an ancient, never-ending conflict rocketed into our nation, unleashing a shock-wave of fear and grief. We learned we are not untouchable. Our money, our power, our fame, our stability does not protect us from the reach of unbridled hatred. It was all coming from outside. It was all ‘them’ and ‘us.’ Only un-Americans would frame it any other way. Justice was expected, demanded, ingested as the only fuel to sustain our place on top of the world. Manhunts, public and private, and eventually one man –our Enemy– was caught. We prove we can not be beaten. We assert justice. Story arc closed.
Even as we celebrated, we knew deep down this story would not close. We were right. Although the rhythm of the rhetoric has changed, hatred still speaks. Individual acts of suicidal violence scream into life-fabric all over the world. No one is immune. No gathering of people too innocent or too protected. We cannot catch our breath from one incident to the next. We lay flowers at the feet of countless fences and barricades, mourning for each group being hunted. All is grief and fear, fear, fear.
We turn to take comfort in our bordered security… and discover this darkness has not stayed outside. We are fracturing ourselves, we are fractured. Fear and hatred are very much alive within. A slow sunrise shines on our national reality: we have never recovered from the ruins of the sins of our youth. There is ‘us’ and ‘them’, and the teams change based on who is aiming the guns. How can justice get her hands around this? The acts of this ‘war’ are often individual, but look like mob mentality. They are collections of horrific moments in distinct communities playing out on the arena of global media.
This story is so close to us it has been either invisible, or it has been the blanket covering our every day; the distinction lies only between those who have been the victim and those who haven’t. We don’t see it, or it’s all we can see, and the disparity is the problem. This story arc pulses with ugly energy. Where is it taking us? We ask what can we do, when there isn’t An Army, there isn’t A Battlefield. The fields are everywhere… a million moments, a thousand jokes, hundreds of assumptions, and normal every-day folks living with the stereotypes they’re steeped in.
How are we to stay calm and confident? How will we fight this?
What we are NOT seeing are those who have been fighting hatred already. Small stories of grace, mercy, and love playing out everywhere, everyday. Small only because there are no cameras. Huge in the lives of those breaking out of what’s-always-been in order to build what-could-be. Those who step over community divisions in order to learn to know people as people. Those who serve and protect with integrity and love. Those who sacrifice and open up their lives, regardless of what they encounter.
What can we do? We can tell the stories of those who are determined to change the world through acts of love and grace. We can fight to recognize the assumptions we live within, which may be invisible to us until we are disrupted. We can teach our children differently. We can step toward injustice where we’re already standing, asking for change, holding hands with those who hurt. We can hold fast to our beliefs, but show grace, love, and respect to those who believe differently. Some of us will be in a position to affect history-book level change, some of us will not. Let this story arc not be dominated by the hatred, the hasty, the violent solutions to violent problems.
If the magnifying glass of history focuses near me and you, let it find a story fighting the downward spiral we’re seeing, a story marked by love driving out all fear, a story worth repeating.