“Breathe, pray, be kind…In dark times, give off light.” - Anne Lamott
I never know how to react to a major disaster like the earthquake in Haiti. It feels like I should do something grand – more grand than write a $30 check to the Red Cross. In the face of the ongoing news coverage of devastation and death, it feels like the things I fill my days with shouldn’t matter – like I should be doing more. How can I spend a Sunday reorganizing my pantry when there is unimaginable pain and suffering going on in a place not so very far away?
These are the kinds of thoughts that fill my head anytime I read or hear about death, destruction or disaster. War, the wars all over the world…children, civilians and soldiers suffering pain and injury…a hurricane…a plane crash…a flood…a suicide bomber in a market…I have a strong faith and I believe God watches over us, but I have never been able to resolve the reason behind catastrophe.
One of my favorite authors is Anne Lamott. She writes with clarity, wisdom and humor about life’s big questions and small situations. In her book Plan B, Further Thoughts on Faith, she wrestles with the war in Iraq by saying: “We remember that God is present wherever people suffer. God’s here with us when we’re miserable, and God is there in Iraq. The suffering of innocent people draws God close to them. Kids hit by bombs are not abandoned by God.”
I like that thought and I call it to mind when my brain begins to spin about “bad things happening to good people”…Suffering draws God close to them. In the ER (where I work part-time as a social worker) we see plenty of bad things happen to good people, and it is easy to get caught up in asking, “Why?”
Why does that miserable, mean-spirited, angry 62-year-old drunk get to keep on living, while a young father of two is killed in a car wreck? Why does the abusive mother of six get to keep having kids, while one of the nicest, sweetest, kindest nurses in the ER pays for fertility treatment after failed fertility treatment?
Why is the single mother of two battling breast cancer for a second time, while a habitual over-dose patient survives yet another “suicide attempt” by taking a few too many ibuprofen? Why is the long-time wife batterer in perfect health, while the loving husband of a couple married for only 15 years passes suddenly, from a completely unexpected heart attack?
Why? Why? Why?
The answer is, we don’t get to ask questions like that and expect answers. Faith doesn’t work that way. We don’t get to see the big picture. We just have to trust that God has it handled.
In the same chapter, Lamott asks: “How do we help? How do we not lose our minds?” Her pastor answers, “You take care of the suffering.” “I can’t get to Iraq,” Anne laments. “There are folks who are miserable here,” is her pastor’s reply.
And, it’s true.
“Be a ladder, be a lamp, be a life boat,” was the slogan on my desk calendar yesterday. And, boy! Did I fail miserably. It was a busy day in the ER and I got stuck dealing with one of the meanest, angriest, most manipulative black holes of a human being I have ever met. He is a legend in the ER, because he is always so difficult to deal with. On a scale of 1 to 10, his pain is always a 10. He rides his call light like a rodeo champ. He makes demands and yells and waves and curses angrily at whoever comes in his room or even walks by, and, he’s passed every mental health evaluation he’s ever had. The guy is not crazy, he’s just horrible.
Within the first 10 minutes of dealing with him, I let his darkness overtake my light and began to respond in kind. Within a half hour, I was actively being mean, cold and angry right back at him, and that made it a very long, very tiring, very angry ER day.
Jesus said whatever you do to the least of his people, you do to him. And, I did a pretty good job of beating Jesus up in the ER yesterday…I can’t go to Haiti, and I’m not going to write any really big Red Cross checks. But, I can do a better job of simply breathing and being kind to those I encounter along my way.
Lorin Sinn-Clark is a writer for the Barrow Journal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.