In hope I trust…

Shankill Castle Feb 2015-138

I am sitting here looking at a blank screen, cursor flashing. I’ve been sitting here for at least 30 minutes. I’ve written lines, and deleted them again. I’ve made two cups of tea. I’ve checked on the fire, numerous times. I’ve written some more words, and deleted them again. Ahead of me is a blank document. All that white space. It’s terrifying. It’s daunting. It’s confusing. It’s exhilarating.

You see it seems like there have been so many words over these last few weeks, some of which have been sending the world into topspin. There have been unsavoury words which have led to unsavoury action. There have been words of spite, anger, shock, uncertainly and fear. But then, in consequence, written on the streets through the feet of millions and held up high on placards there have been words of hope, solidarity, compassion, justice, inspiration, power and beauty.

Watching global events unfold it strikes me that we are facing a collective blank page. The cursor is flashing. Unfolding before us are two narratives- internally and externally: the narrative of fear and the narrative of hope. We get to write how the story continues. We are part of the unfolding. The ancients and our ancestors have been through this before, of course.

 

The evil. The good. The fear. The hope. The one that wins is the one that feeds.  Right now it can seem that hope is hungry and fear is full; but only if we choose for it to be so, and that choice, I think, requires connection.

As we plug our own lives into the grand narrative of global affairs, our own individual actions can seem, well, insignificant.  ‘But I’m only a _______’ .  A blank. That maybe so, but whatever your ‘blank’, that blank has it’s own soul, energy, skill, talent, breath, movement, texture and form. That blank has power. Then, put lots of blanks together and you get a whole new tapestry of possibility.
+_____________ +_____________ +_____________ +
+_____________ +_____________ +_____________ +
+_____________ +_____________ +_____________ +
+_____________ +_____________ +_____________ +
+_____________ +_____________ +_____________ +
+_____________ +_____________ +_____________ +
Those blanks make units, and those units make patterns, and those patterns have weaves and those weaves are strength. Together those blanks make families, communities, neighbourhoods. friendships, even movements. The narrative of hope is a narrative of action, and connection.

I write these words to myself as a reminder. To reach out. To listen to the other. To pay attention to what hunger I am feeding. To connect.  And as I write them I am also aware that there is a simplicity to them which could be called idealism or even naivety. I’m OK with both, because ultimately it all boils down to this: we all live on the same planet, we are are all the one species, we breath the same air and need the same fundamental things. We have so much more in common than any ideology would lead us to believe. We are all one. It’s really that simple. Whether I agree with you our not, we are still one. You are my sister or brother on this planet. That air we breathe, that sun we share, that gravity that holds us, holds us all, together. That’s the natural law. Now it’s up to us to keep it so.

And so, feeding the hope is not to deny the fear, it’s just not giving into it. It’s not to deny the history of what we have been through, nor to turn away from what is happening, but instead to turn towards what the earth already knows, intrinsically. Hope then is not passive acceptance, but an active appraisal; an earthly honouring. It can be a push, a shout, a scream. It can be saying no. It can be standing up. It can be reaching out. It’s the warrior within rising up, for the narrative of hope gets written through action.

Ahead is the blank page, awaiting attention. It’s still pretty terrifying, and daunting and confusing and exhilarating, but by reminding myself what hunger to feed, it seems just a bit less so. Especially the terrifying bit.

And so to the ancients, I bow; to this mother of earth, I bow; and to you, I bow, whoever you are, wherever you are. It’s in hope that I trust.

Now, let’s keep this hope on the road.


To keep the flame alive…

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There she was, this young child, covered in a layer of dust, blood in her hair and a blank face. All around her, screams and chaos and the harrowing chills and howls of a tragic war. This little child, sitting on a trolly, whose face was broadcast on the news. And here I am, sitting in a beautiful home, warm, safe, well fed, crying. I actually reached on to the screen and tried to wipe the dust away, tried to hold her hand, tried to offer my comfort. I wanted to put my arms around her, hold her, protect her. But there are so many things in the way- the screen, the miles, the war, the politics, the bitter twisted broken policies of regimes, and the annals of an angry history. She seems so far away and yet her pain has reached into my heart and tears it apart. I can’t get her traumatised face out of my mind.

There is her, of course, and then there are all the others, the thousands of others. There are the ones in the war zone, the ones on the boats, the ones waiting in camps, the ones who have gone missing, the ones who are seeking refuge, the ones who have not made it. Was she in fact the same little one I saw in Gaza? Or somewhere in Afghanistan? Or on another night, on another channel? It’s unbearable. I force myself not to look way as my tears risk blurring out the view. I wipe my tears.

It doesn’t seem enough, to sit and cry. It doesn’t seem enough to offer my care, or broken heart, or what I deem humanity. It seems desperate sitting here, so far away, so privileged. And yet, here I am. But this I am sure of too: as there are many like her, there are also many like me. Maybe it’s you, sitting at home, feeling desperate with your heart breaking open. It’s tragic, I know.

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So what do we do?

Honestly, I don’t know. I wish I knew. I wish there was a step by step guide, but there isn’t. We can give money, yes- where it goes, and how effective, and how it gets mixed up in the politics of aid is complex. But we can give, knowing it’s not going to perfect.  And we can write letters and show up at protests and voice our concern. Yes, we can do that, knowing that too is not perfect, but it is something. Yes, these are important.

And then there something broader which I think we can offer, something critical, and it’s right at the core of us, deep within us, something which is vital and beating. It’s our hearts, no matter how broken. And aren’t our hearts the birthplace of our humanity? And isn’t our world so desperate for our humanity- so desperate right now. Yes, we can individually keep our hearts open and our humanity alive- can’t we?

As I am sitting writing this, I almost let the fire go out, literally. There were just a few remaining embers in the grate. And so, quick action was required- a balled up sheet of newspaper to catch the flame quickly, then another, a fire lighter and then the solid wood- the stuff that will last longer, and give out more heat. Now the fire is burning bright again and the room is warming. It gets me thinking about the nature of how things catch. In an emergency situation, sometimes short term, quick action is essential. Bring on the fire lighters. Get the thing going again, use what you have, add some spark and air. Then, build and tend, build and tend, stay focused, build and tend.

What I saw tonight on the news is emergency. Something urgent and swift is required. That action needs quick fuel, support and air. Then there is the build and tend- the long haul fire tending work.

Friends, as so many of us can sense and not deny, something is not boding well out there. 2016 was a pretty harrowing year; a year where fear has festered and the polarising of us and them has accelerated. As image after image of other little ones on trollies appear on our screens, and yet more images of the desperate and destitute arrive on our shores, it can be all to easy to block not only our borders but also our hearts. Keep the flame alive, then build and tend. I wonder, can we each allow our hearts to be harbours too- to the other- the other within us, and the other outside of us? Can we build a place for the ‘other’ and tend to it as it it was our own?

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I keep thinking too of this word ‘humanity’. HUMAN-ity. That little girl on the trolly? Well, she is you, and me too. The perpetrator and the victim? They are you and me. The one who pulls the trigger and the one who survives- all part of our human race. But is it our humanity which sets us apart from our humanness, and is our humanity our ability to rise above our differences and see each other as equal, as another being on this finite planet, each with our own struggle, story, pain and promise.

That pain on the news today, I’ve seen the pain before. Or at least the remnants of the pain. I’ve sat with survivors of rape and torture and listened their stories. My camera has captured the faces of those stories from Bosnia to Cambodia, and caught glimpses of the lives and scars of hundreds of people in poverty- victims of a human plight. And yet when we sit down and face each other, eye to eye, heart to heart, story to story, our humanity faces each other too. We breathe, we touch, we love, we fear, we cry, we laugh, we are being human in all its frailties and beauty. We share this common bond call human, and in recognising that bond we have the beginnings of a shared humanity.

And yes, it’s unbearable. And yes, it’s the most beautiful thing. Recognising humanity is not an intellectual endeavour. Its nativity is also its grace. You are you and I am I, but together we are on this one little planet that we have to find a way to share, and tend.

So, what to do? Build and tend, I tell myself, build and tend. And what does that look like? Well, in simple terms, can it start when I meet a stranger on the street and see myself in them? When I met an ‘other’, can I also meet my friend? And even deeper still, when I meet the stranger within me- those parts of myself I’d rather deny or hide, can I embrace my own imperfections rather than fear them, and move on, together. It’s the fear we need to be careful of, you see, not the other.

The little girl’s dusty face is still on my mind. I desperately want to reach out, wipe the dust from her face, and hold her close. I wish I could take her into my arms, care for her, give her a home as long as she needs one. But right now, from where I sit, all I can do is give her my heart, however broken it is. It’s not enough, I know, but she has broken it open further, bringing me closer my tender humanity which is searching for the work to build and tend, build and tend, and keep the flame alive. This heart knows more when ever that there is a fire to keep, alive.

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