Sunday, July 6, 2014

killing each other for history

I've been thinking a lot about the fragility of human life, lately. Which isn't that strange, for me; but I mean, like, a lot.

That, and Israel.

Now, I don't usually think about Israel. Not unless someone specifically says to me, "Hey... Israel," and even then I'm still just giving a rational, "Yeah... Israel" response - not a visceral thing where I think "Oh. My. Historicalmadness... when will this endless, tragic violence stop?" I mean, I'm all for Peace in the Middle East, and for people not wanting to kill each other because of history, but that's sixteen-hundred miles away, man... y'know? Draw a circle with a radius of sixteen hundred miles all around the shed where I live, and you're gonna enclose a heckuva lot of human suffering and pain. A whole heckuva lot of stuff that it's just easier to not let myself feel on a day-to-day basis. It's a lot easier to just sit here in this uncomfortable chair of mine and feel sorry for myself that nobody's handing me an Oscar for best original screenplay, right now.

Pain's like that. 

It only really gets to you when it's specific to you -- like when you stub your toe, or you read "Where the Red Fern Grows" for the first time, or maybe when you watch a movie or see a news report that somehow connects to something visceral about you, and your own, personal, all-consuming Story-of-Yourself.

You can be intentional about expanding that internal emotional story of yours to include others' stories, but it's sure not easy, and I mostly haven't done it for the folks over in Israel.

Not 'til this past month, now that someone I care a lot about (like, a LOT-a-lot) is in Israel, where some jackwaggons recently murdered some teenagers because of history, and then some other jackwaggons murdered another teenager because of history; and now tensions are high and rockets are going off that aren't part of some over-priced (Dare-I-say-frivolous?) celebration of Not-Paying-Taxes Day.

Last week, this someone and I were skype-talking about her riding a bus in Jerusalem, and I started to think about the sorts of things that have happened on buses in Jerusalem, and I found that (miracle of miracles) my mouth wasn't opening, and I had nothing to say. There was nothing I could say, because the thought of her fragility and of Israel just wiped my mind blank of anything but that special kind of pain that love always risks. I knew that saying anything at all would've just made saltwater leak out my eyeballs.

After too much silence, I said we had to talk about something else - and we did. 

And we acted like it wasn't really a huge deal. Like the background explosion we heard during our conversation wasn't a huge deal. Like it's not a huge deal that we're all walking this incredibly-thin tightrope between life, death, and the mysterious beyond.

Sometimes I wonder if the people I grew up with who act all positive about death "in-Jesus'-name-amen" are actually full-on psychotic. 

You'd be at a funeral with them, and they'd smile and say some nonsense like, "He's in a better place, now," or that "God obviously had a plan for all of this."

There'd be this horrific tragedy where a bus-load of people would get blown to bits, but one guy would survive. And they'd say, "The Lord sure did have a plan for his life." As though they weren't aware that to say that was to also say that God had a plan for that little girl with the dolly and the yellow dress to get disemboweled on the way to see her grandmother. Like any of it makes a single bit of f@#%ing sense.

Now, if you read this blog often enough, you know that I am ALL for faith.

I think Jesus is way cool, and that there's hope and beauty and meaning to be found there. I think those things are deep enough to dive into, roll around in, and cling to to get through life's most insensible tragedies. But to sit there and pretend like they're not tragedies...? To act as though they make any kind of sense at all???

Bollocks. 

If you live in this world-of-pain long enough and never ONCE shake a fist at the sky and say, "God, what the @#$* do you think you're doing, here?" ...well, then you're doing it wrong, and you should stop. After all, the Bible calls this early Israelite guy named King David a "man after God's own heart," but makes no bones about him having his share of screaming-at-the-sky moments. You think you're better than that? Shut up, I say. Shut up.

Anyway.

What's extra-specially horrific about this is that even as I start thinking about the fragility of life and expanding my pain-circle out to include Israel, I realized that I'm not really including Israel, at all. I'm not thinking/praying/hoping that everything over there will be healed forever and people will stop wanting to kill each other because of history. No, I'm just hoping that they'll stop doing it while the woman I care about is there. And I'm even hoping (oh, the shame) that if they're not gonna stop, that they'll at least kill someone other than her.

Sometimes a mirror is an ugly, ugly thing. 

All the more ugly because I'm fully aware that, statistically-speaking, her being at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem is less dangerous than her being here in good-old 'Murica, driving on a freeway. I'm aware that I've got this serious rational disjunction going on, but my emotions don't care. All my emotions care about is that I can envision a story in which she dies tragically across the ocean, and I'm left holding an extra bag of pain. Some of that's for her, sure, because she's great. And some of it's for her family, and friends, and for anyone else who'd potentially get caught up in this Story-of-Violence that I'm imagining for her.

But most of that pain is for me. Me and my imaginary, story-pain self.

I think if we're being honest, we have to admit that the vast majority of the pain we feel is about us. Which, on the one hand, makes me feel really freakin' cynical about human nature. It also makes me feel really hopeful about stories.

Because in the telling and experiencing of stories, we can in some mysterious way become someone else. We can imagine our way into their story and live, a little, within their pain.



We're all islands. 

Dying islands, sinking into an ocean of death. Stories are bridges. They connect our pain to the pain of others, and to their joy as well. Stories help us suffer together. They help us live together, and even die a little bit together so that in that final walk into that good night, we're not quite so very, very alone.

Stories make it personal. 

Stories help us to think about Israel, the fragility of life, and the hope we can find in love. It hurts, a lot of the time, to find myself getting pulled into someone else's story. It's a delicious kind of pain, though, and I'm grateful. Even though the stories I tell and am told will always (at least from my perspective) be mostly about me, I still think they're the best chance I've got to join into someone else's story, if only for a second.

So I am sorry, O Israel, for what you have suffered. For a moment, I felt the tiniest fragment of your pain. At my worst and for the most part, I don't care about it at all... but in some small way, I also do.

Peace to you, O Israel.

Shalom.

- - -

Heynowthen. That certainly was a bit of a downer-post, wasn't it? 

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