I am just a little frightened by the violence of the human heart.
I am out here on a road, with human hearts veering out of all reason, with no seeming sense of the power of the vehicles they drive, splashing twisted metal across the news as they break themselves and everyone around. And I am in here: in this body, behind the wheel of my own human heart, where, occasionally out out on the road, I think, "Damn, I'm not sure how to drive this thing." I seem to lurch suddenly, when I was sure I had this down. Smooth sailing it is not.
And, reading the news with my morning cup of coffee, raising my family, I don't want to keep watching the world or myself make the same kinds of mistakes. I want us to grow up and learn something. "I can't bear to live through anything like another post-9/11," I think. I think it and catch the edge of bitterness in my thought.
Right now, I am teaching two of my children history. I believe in honesty. I believe in honesty, because lies about history are dangerous, dangerous things, but I also believe that I need to pass on a world that my children will ultimately believe can be good. To do this well requires thought. "The Americans...," my Native American son has taken to saying with a certain tone of anger in his voice. And this may well bother somebody, but that fact that he feels this way, to my mind, simply means that he is paying attention, that he is imaginative, and that he has absorbed compassion and can place himself in the shoes of people living long ago. I think this reaction speaks well of him.
"But you are American," I told him."America is all of us. It is the descendants of the white slave owners and the the slaves and the Natives who lived here first. It is the descendants of all the immigrants who've landed on this shore since then. It includes the parts of America that used to be Mexico, and the Mexicans that have come here since looking for a better life. It is everyone. And the history of America is not just the history of what was done to the slaves and the Indians. It is the history of their resistance and their survival and the history of the abolitionists that said this wasn't right. This country began as a slave-holding country and soon, we will recognize gay marriage. We are getting better as our country gets older. American history is the history of that. And you can be very proud of that history."
"OK," he said, and he looked a little less piqued.
And yet, the fits and starts as we jerk around can make me a little ill. I am older and I am done being horrified by history, but I am not being horrified by the present. And I am not willing to be done, because the fact that I'm horrified means that I'm paying attention, that I'm imaginative, and that I have absorbed compassion and can imagine, at least in part, what it is to be a Newtown parent as Congress squelches discussion of gun control or a bystander watching the world explode at the Boston Marathon. I don't want to stop looking, and I don't want to lose myself. I am not always sure what it is in my power to do. Sometimes, it feels like not a lot.
I have decided that my primary sphere of influence is my own community. So, if I'm to learn to steer this human heart, my primary work is here, where I already am. That is why I try not to look away. I let myself be moved by the world. I let myself speak about being moved. I try to listen. I try not to make wedges but bridges, when I can remember to do that. I am, every moment, practicing my values to my children and to my Facebook friends, to my family, to my cat, if he will listen to me. That is all I know how to do. When I don't, I get a little smaller—make a self that's a little narrower and has a membrane that is designed to keep invaders, and a lot of beauty, out. So, I try—at least I try not to look away in the face of suffering, and I try not to let it make me hard, but to let my heart be soft, which means that rather than being angry, I am sometimes sad.
This week, I am sad and horrified, just like my son. And I think that's what I'm supposed to be.
Last week was golden. This week is sad. It's just that it goes this way. I have the luxury of saying this, since no one in my life has died or had their leg amputated, and no one in my life died in Newtown either and so I can walk away from the news and go back to chickens and children and things that seem to have stayed the same. But nothing stays the same. Not even here. Last week was golden, and this week is sad. And it goes this way, and I will not turn away.
The world—and my world, too—can keep on having my human heart.