The world has been pretty terrible lately. You don’t have to look far in the headlines to find tragedy. The deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown–among many others–show us that racism is still blatant 50 years after the Civil Rights movement. The Taliban just killed over 140 innocent people in a Pakistani school. There is no time or place where murder at a school could ever be acceptable, and the United States is far from immune to this. Two years ago this week, a man opened fire at an elementary school in Connecticut. I don’t think I will ever come to terms with that event.
There is so much suffering and poverty and inequality and injustice in the world and I don’t know how to stop it. Every day, so many horrific things happen and I am so acutely aware of them, yet I have the audacity to continue living in my blissful daily existence. I keep trying to put into words the magnitude of these events and how much they matter, but words will not reverse the consequences that already took place. I don’t know if I can adequately express the weight of these injustices, and I don’t think my attempts to dwell on these tragedies will solve anything. Because somehow, amidst all this grief, I still have hope. I still believe above all else that the world is not doomed and that humanity can and will make life more bearable. I’m sure that many educated people would call this hope misguided or unreliable, but it’s the only thing I have.
Perhaps my ridiculously comfortable existence enables me to have this hope. This is all because I’m so lucky. Lucky I was born white. Lucky I can afford a college education. Lucky my family is stable and alive. Lucky I can type coherent thoughts. I’m so aware of my privilege, yet so oblivious to the implications. I will never know what it feels like to walk on a street with the constant worry that a police officer might mistake me for a criminal and kill me. I will never know what it feels like to live in a country where bombs and air raids could rain down at any time. I will never know what it feels like to grow up in an impoverished family in a dangerous area.
Maybe I should feel guilty about this. I don’t, but I’m aware of it and uncertain about my lack of guilt and where it leaves me. If I am happy with all these privileges I have both received and earned, what does that mean for the rest of the world? Should I just feel sorry for the Pakistanis who are affected by the Taliban’s cruelty, or am I obligated through my privilege to do something about it? And how the hell do I do something about it? Right now it seems that my only option is to be a voice. I’m so conflicted and confused about my place in the scheme of this cruel world, but the conversation has to start somewhere.
When tragedies happen, I never know how to respond. There is nothing I can say or do that would make them less painful, and sometimes the only thing I can offer is my own sympathy. Ultimately, that does not help anyone but myself. Still, I believe that world peace is possible, and I think that a more peaceful world is likely. Coming from a human perspective, not a religious one, I must ground my hope in a faith that humanity is capable of more good than evil. That someday, we can all be at least a little more equal and a little less cruel.
I have so much I want to know and understand and think and say and feel but I don’t know where to start and I’m not convinced that I know where I’m headed at all. Maybe personal happiness is the answer. Maybe it’s love. Stephen Hawking seems to think so. The movie The Theory of Everything is less about Hawking’s scientific achievements and more about his relationships with people. If one of the most brilliant people alive recognizes the impact and influence of human relationships, perhaps we should follow his lead.
Maybe all this world needs is a little more compassion and recognition of everyone’s own humanity. If we can look into another person’s eyes and realize that behind those eyes lies a lifetime of dreams and fears and experiences, then we can begin to understand that in the end, we are all connected because we have lived. Maybe then we wouldn’t be so quick to kill.