I've recently started re-reading Henri Nouwen's Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life, and, being the educator I am, began by checking out the dictionary definition of discernment. Old-school geeky, I know.
The example of using the word in a sentence -- quoted above -- upended my thoughts. Where did this quote come from? Is there a book or essay or speech out there with this incredibly pertinent statement about our current situation which I missed? And, if not, then whoaaaaa -- I'd better pause to reflect on what this means since it resonated so loudly for me.
A hiccup in my hope
I am struggling. Struggling with grief, with daily uncertainty, with information overload and with unnerving glimpses of a national loss of morale. Usually, the Boss's sense of humor and adventure help to keep me going on rough days, but his emotions are as close to the surface as mine. Early in our life we were named Mr. and Mrs. Mush for our public displays of affection, but the nicknames would stick now for our inability to get through any video remotely sentimental without tears -- both of us. We tend to live from the point of view of the-cup-is-on-the-way-to-being-full optimism. But it seems we can't even find the stupid cup these days.
Optimism is founded in hope. Hope and confidence that tomorrow will be better than today. Right now I am not as hopeful about tomorrow as I should be: life experience has taught me that we will figure out how to adapt to new ways of living. It's the process of figuring it out -- working together through what appears to be insurmountable odds -- which is causing a hiccup in my hope for tomorrow.
I want to believe we know how to live and work together towards a common goal of justly restoring our life better than it was before, but my doubt is strong today.
Anything less is just noise
If I have some hard-won resilience from life experiences in facing difficulties, then why is doubt stronger than hope? You might ask why not just draw on that resilience -- I am, believe me.
But doubt is winning just now for two reasons: one, the difficulties we face as a result of the coronavirus are pretty damn big -- bigger than anything I've seen in my life. And, two, our distrust of each other and the civic systems which create our common life -- blaming other people or groups as the cause of my suffering -- seems to get exponentially louder and louder day-by-day.
This is where a modicum of discernment would come in handy -- really, why I picked up Nouwen's book again. Discernment is the ability to judge something well, with understanding, accuracy and insight, and looking below the superficial to find the truth of the matter.
The truth of the matter is that we are one people in the midst of a crisis who must work together to find and create ways to rebuild our individual lives,
as well as our common life.
Anything less is just noise.
Together, we are experiencing successes in our effort to flatten the curve -- to slow down the spread of the coronavirus -- and together, we can rebuild our life stronger than before this natural and self-inflicted disaster. In the midst of our current misfortune there exists the opportunity to create a more just society if we are willing to collaborate and compromise -- if we are willing to give rather than assume others are going to take.
One step towards working together is to create opportunities to acknowledge or commemorate our individual and community sacrifices. But in our focus on returning to normal as soon as possible we are missing the privilege to recognize the hurtful truth of our losses -- we are attempting to sweep this suffering away as soon as possible.
We need to mourn. Together. As individual families, as faith communities, as towns and cities, as states, as a nation.
We must mourn the loss of lives.
We must mourn the loss of work and income.
We must mourn increasing hunger and food insecurity.
We must mourn crisis schooling and the loss of the rites of passage like prom and graduation.
We must mourn our developing widespread mental health crises.
It is in the suffering together -- mourning together -- that enables us to work together trusting in our commitment to a common goal.
Even in the midst of struggling with doubt, I choose to believe we can live through this present moment without shattering our communal life.
I choose to share suffering and mourning with others.
I choose to hope we can live from a place of discernment, avoiding the noise.
Struggling, but choosing hope,