Updated: Jun 17, 2020
"If you want to know what it's like to survive hell and still come out shining brighter than the sun, just look into the eyes of a woman who has survived intense damage and refused to allow it to destroy her softness." -Nikita Gill
It’s been a while since I last sat down to write a blog post. Partially because I’ve been busy, life’s been messy, and mostly because I haven’t felt inspired enough to write one. When I first decided to start this blog last year, the only rule I had for myself was that I would never write or publish anything "just because." I promised myself that the words I’d share would genuinely mean something to me and not just meet the expectation of a weekly or monthly deadline. This being said, today I feel inspired to write again.
There’s an ancient Greek myth about the world’s suffering and how it came about. Supposedly out of curiosity, Pandora, Zeus’s daughter, opened the lid to a box he had given to Prometheus' brother, Epimetheus. Out of the box came endless complications from her decision to lift the lid. Into the world went trouble, sickness, toil, hatred, and suffering, but Pandora closed the lid before the last spirit could get out. The spirit of hope. I find this story to be incredibly significant because I think many of us have a hard time finding hope in the midst of devastation. We don’t believe in ourselves as much as we should, and we surely don’t believe in the goodness of others as much as we could. We easily lose our hope in humanity, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, just that we have to look a little harder for it.
Usually, my blog posts are about one thing in particular. One moment or one story that I feel called to share, but this blog post is about three. Three moments that have led me to consider deeply the way I see the world and others, the belief we hold onto, and where I think hope lies.
1. People are good, and that belief is what will change the world.
This semester I took an ethics class at Loyola entitled, Ethics After Auschwitz. As you can probably guess based off the title, the class was incredibly intense, challenging, and difficult; not in an academic sense, but in an emotionally, heart wrenching, morally devastating kind of way. Granted I wasn’t expecting it to be the opposite of that, but I also wasn’t expecting that most days after class I would come back to my room, lay on my bed, and just cry. After listening to witness testimonies, seeing heartbreaking footage, and reading stories that I couldn’t ever fathom, my only bodily response was just that. To cry.
I remember coming back to the room one day after class and breaking down in front of Kira. We had just watched a documentary on the Rwandan Genocide where the Hutus were luring the Tutsis out of the woods in an attempt to murder them. One man, a father and a husband, was caught by the Hutus as he was trying to escape the violence. Being his neighbor, the Hutus knew he had a son. Holding a gun to his back, the Hutus told the man to call his son out of the woods and tell him that it was okay, that they’d both be okay. He begged for his son to come to him, and when his son did what he said, he was shot in front of his father’s eyes. His father then too was killed. This footage was shown to the man’s wife, the son’s mother. My heart was breaking watching it myself, but then seeing her sob hysterically as she watched the final moments of her loved one’s lives, I couldn’t take it.
For four months my class watched and read stories similar to the one mentioned above and every day I tried to understand the things I was hearing and seeing. I tried to make sense of the world we lived in and why no one did anything to stop it. I felt disappointed and angry. Sad and frustrated. Genocide used to be spelled exactly the way I just typed it. Uppercase. Representing an event or a noun, something unique, relatively rare, the title of something. In many scholarly articles today, the word is written in lowercase as follows: genocide. It has become so common in the world that it no longer gets the tragic acclimation of a capital G. I find this devastating. And yet, while I spent most of the class feeling helpless, I never felt hopeless.
For our final paper, we were given the question: will genocide ever end? I must have spent at least two weeks contemplating the question before I ever wrote anything down. Curious, I asked many people the question I was given, wondering what the common response would be. I think it’s important to share that every single person I asked, said the same thing, "no" or "probably not"… well every person but one, me. I struggled over the words I chose to write because although it was an essay question designed to give me a final letter grade in a class, it wasn’t just an essay prompt to me. It was a statement of my life. The answer to one very simple question was a declaration of the action I believed we as students would take moving past just a few thousand words on a paper. And while there are hundreds of reasons why genocide may never end, “optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, it’s unlikely you will step up and take responsibility for making it so. If you assume there is no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope. If you assume that there is an instinct for freedom, there are opportunities to change things, there’s a chance you may contribute to making a better world the choice is yours.” – Noam Chomsky. Although a paper taking the angle of “no” would have been a much easier paper to write, I physically couldn’t answer it that way.
So this being said, I began my argument for why genocide would one day end, suggesting that in a way, those who reply to the question “will genocide ever end?” with a ‘no’ or a ‘probably not’ are in fact continuing this trend of being a bystander through their acceptance that the world cannot do better. The end of genocide I believe depends upon the way we answer that question, choosing to remain a bystanding culture or one that expects more of its people. More of ourselves. And while I do believe humans can be blinded by their own ignorance, I don’t believe that most humans use it as a weapon. Without it taking away from the millions of lives lost in the world due to inexplicable behavior, I don’t believe that ethics as a moral law has failed entirely because I think the world still knowingly seeks to live by each other’s happiness and not by each other’s misery. I think we are all programmed with the feeling that what we are doing is right or wrong. Call it God, your conscious, the stars, we all have an inner moral compass that shifts with response to our actions. I also think, there is more good in the world than we give credit. The “Holocaust, genocide, and other mass atrocities do not signify the failures of ethics, but of those men and women, of groups and communities that scarcely follow the light and do not heed the insight that sound and ethical reflection provides”— the few will ruin it for the many, but the few do not define the many.
Life is fleeting and fragile and while there are reasons to see the worst and believe in the bad, there are many other moments to embrace that remind us of the good. Laughter at a kitchen table, twinkly lights during summer, newborn babies, chocolate cake, talent shows, landing on the moon, friendship bracelets, graduation, hugs, a state championship, a first kiss, friends showing up for friends, strangers paying it forward, a boy tying the shoe of a girl in a wheelchair, chalk drawings, music when you wake up in the morning, driving with the windows down, slobbery dog kisses, dance parties, snowball fights etc. It is in those moments where I know we will do better moving forward and it is there that I see a peaceful planet null of genocide.
“Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.”
– L.R. Knost
2. Your life is yours to participate in.
A week or two ago, I was told that perhaps I didn’t necessarily have a right to believe that the world was good or that people were good because I supposedly wasn’t participating in my own life. Basically, I didn’t have the life experience I needed or something like that to make that decision, or to have philosophical ideas about the world. At the time, I didn’t say anything because to be honest, I’m not really sure what they meant by “participate in life." I kind of thought that was your birth right. That your life is yours and you participate in it every day. I didn’t reply to the remark because I thought how arrogant it was for someone else to say that to another person, especially if they aren’t around you very often. Knowing who I am and the experiences I have gone through as a twenty-year-old, including life struggles and living abroad for five months, I was honestly shocked. But it made me realize quite quickly that regardless of other people’s feelings (family and friends included), you are the protagonist of your own story. Everyone else, is a background character. And I don’t mean that in an insignificant, unappreciative way, but I don’t think anyone is truly qualified to tell you that you can or cannot believe in something or that they should poke fun of it because it doesn’t match their expectations of you. Sometimes we think we know people, but we only really know what they show us (i.e. social media).
A great example of this for me is that my family definitely thinks when I get home from college that I’m lazy and have no friends (which they have a right to believe because I literally sit in the same chair watching TV all day) BUT I also just spent four months at school slaving away at assignments, exams, group projects, presentations, honor council hearings, club meetings, office hours, and spending 24/7 around people… and I like alone time. So, when I come home, no, I don’t want to do anything or see anyone, I want to sit around in my pajamas and watch TV because for the past four months, I couldn’t. I give you this example because I think sometimes we get frustrated with people quickly or we assume things without knowing the whole story, or perhaps forgetting it. Would you be more understanding of a slow driver on your way to work if you knew they were learning how to drive and had the Student Driver sticker on the back? Probably. We see what we see, they see what they see, and maybe we even see the same thing, but it doesn’t look the same to both people. It’s okay to live your life for you because maybe you’re the only one who really knows what you’ve been up to, what you’ve seen, who you’ve met, how you’re feeling, etc. You’re here to participate in your life. You’re the main character of your life, not theirs. And that is never something to be ashamed or guilty of.
3. Although you are responsible for your life and your happiness, it becomes meaningful when its shared with others.
While I mentioned above that you are obligated to participate your life first and foremost, life is only as great as the people you get to share it with. Every great story has its hero, villain, friend, and lover. So yes, participate in your life, but be the background character in another’s and enjoy the ones in yours. Lately, I’ve had to deal with a lot of letting go when it comes to people I care about. Particularly as we all get older, graduate, and move on to the next stage of our lives, it’s harder to stay in contact and make plans, but perhaps this act of letting go is what makes life so beautifully tragic. As Winnie the Pooh says, “how lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
So, while my background characters may be temporary, I am learning to be grateful for the moments in front of me, with the people God chose for me to meet. Sending them love and light every time I think of them and then letting them go and moving on to the next stage of life, trusting that they taught me, helped me, loved me, or grew me. It’s okay if one day they have to go because yes, people leave, but sometimes they come back. And God knows the right ones stay. I find comfort in knowing that everything that is supposed to happen, will happen and everyone you’re supposed to meet, you will meet. I think in the end, its less about what we have and what accomplishments or accolades we’ve received and more about what we gave back and how we helped other people. Life is all about people.
I know it doesn’t make sense why genocide happens in the world. It doesn’t make sense that a person flies a plane into a building of innocent people. It doesn’t make sense why people die at such a young age and leave a future behind or why school shootings happen. It doesn’t make sense why some people can have kids and some can’t or how you only really know love from a heartbreak. It doesn’t make sense that people live in shacks or garbage piles. It doesn’t make sense that some people survive things others do not or why some people have a better shot at a happy life. It doesn’t make sense. But what does make sense, is that all the things that don’t make sense have one thing in common. People. People are life. They are love. They are happiness. Disappointment. Joy. Pain. Hope. This life is meant for people. And I think that maybe the things that don’t make sense are supposed to show us the things that do. That people matter. Things that don’t make any sense leave you with room to find God and to seek people and invest in relationships that mean something. Ethical failures give us the opportunity to do better. Struggle gives us the chance to find joy. There is really nothing more important than that. Searching for love and life and hope in the mysterious wonders of the world that make no sense at all.
But then again, I'm only twenty and probably don't know anything about goodness or hope in the world. ;)