I am so relieved that the siege in Nairobi has come to an end. It has been so terrible. I want to join the nation of Kenya in their prescribed three days of mourning. However, sometimes (actually, often) I feel that if I really stop to acknowledge the pain of one city or people, then I am choosing them above so many others facing equal or greater pain and loss.
By grieving for Kenya, am I ignoring the 80 Christians killed in Pakistan on Sunday who were attacked by suicide bombers while enjoying an after-church picnic? Am I ignoring the 100+ victims of Hurricanes Ingrid and Manuel in Mexico, or those whose lives have been forever ripped apart by a deranged gunman with a twisted vendetta? Am I ignoring those trapped in the sex trade in Southeast Asia; in Las Vegas; in Lake County, Minnesota? Am I ignoring the heart-wrenching stories of the families separated by soldiers, landmines and razor wire on the Korean Peninsula; or the child soldiers in Uganda; or the horrific plight of the unborn within our own country?
And what about those around the world still struggling to rebuild their lives after catastrophic earthquakes and tsunamis, and those living quietly in fear of persecution from their own government, from violent drug smugglers, from rogue militant groups who have taken the law into their own hands?
If I mourn for Kenya, is it only because their recent attack occurred at an upscale shopping mall with a rainbow of skin tones present so it received more media attention than other stories where the people affected were primarily brown-skinned and poor, or have a name that is difficult for the American tongue to pronounce? If I mourn one, does that imply that I don't care about the others--especially the ones that didn't even get mentioned in this very limited list?
May it never be. Although they weigh heavily upon my mind—an inconvenience in a mind crowded already with the daily life clutter of the typical middle class American mom—I will still read their stories, too. I will still be found at my computer at random times throughout the day, suddenly in tears over the suffering I find there. Many of their stories will never be mentioned by me in a Facebook status update or a blog post. Some may not even come up around the dinner table, but I feel the weight of them because I carry so many of them in my heart. And then I discover a new one—new to me, at least—and I feel illogical shame that I have not been aware of this one, that I have not carried this one, too.
And so I have to make choices.
I could live in a perpetual state of mourning and ignore the joys of life that do exist.
I could stop reading the news.
I could choose to ignore what I know.
I could begin using more general terms to cover hordes of hurting people with general prayers and statements about “the less-fortunate” or “those affected by recent world events.”
However, I don’t believe that any of these options will work for me. I know too much. Worse yet, I have traveled in the lands of “the less-fortunate.” I have seen too much.
Instead, I will initiate a discussion at the dinner table or call my teenage children to sit with me at the computer and read a story or watch a video about something in the news.
I will choose to occasionally bring something to light among my contacts in social media, be it a link to someone else’s well-written news story or blog post, or something of my own.
I will pray—seemingly haphazardly—for suffering people in one part of the world one day and another part of the world another day, jumping from topic to topic as my scattered heart is touched by this and that.
I will try my hand at researching and cooking ethnic foods for a themed-dinner to celebrate a great joy, as I did when the trapped Chilean miners (remember ‘los 33’?) were rescued.
I will help my children research the geography of a land when a natural disaster has struck, as we did when a terrible earthquake hit Haiti a few years back. (We finally had to throw away my daughter’s salt dough model of Haiti with the colored toothpick flags marking the worst hit areas and the magic marker fault lines.)
I will share our food with people holding cardboard signs when I am stopped at a red light without trying to analyze whether they truly need it or not.
I will say to a friend who has suffered a great loss, “I’m so sorry. This must be so hard for you. Do you want to tell me about it?” And then I will shut up and just listen.
I will choose not to complain about the trivial little inconvenience of my relatively easy life.
For me, it is impossible to ignore the suffering around me, and although I cannot do everything I wish I could do; I can at least do these things. It hardly seems like much, really, but it is what I can do. And I pray that my eyes and ears, as well as my heart, will be open to recognize the opportunities to do even more.
I implore you, friends, to likewise not ignore the suffering of the world around you. Take the time and the emotional energy it takes to acknowledge people’s pain and grieve with them, both those who live nearby and those who live afar off and have names you don’t know. Do what you can do to help.
Thanks for reading. I’m off to study Kenyan recipes, as we will need something significant to end their official three days of mourning and mark our solidarity with those who suffer.