Visiting my parents earlier today I heard of a terrible incident of violence quite close to where they live. All morning and afternoon the area was abuzz with the news of an employee, his co-workers, and the many families who will go to bed tonight in a different world from the one they woke up in this morning.
There’s a tactic with which my singing friends may be familiar, of trying to choose an opening aria in an audition that will result in the panel choosing the second aria that you want them to pick. It’s a hopeless tactic, and it rarely works, but we are all tempted to try to crawl into people’s heads and manipulate them into choosing what we want.
What do starter arias have to do with workplace violence? Not a lot, thankfully. But I thought of that today when pondering that people are not predictable. I become more convinced every day that we are all universes unto ourselves, full of good and evil, impulses and control, and often as likely to break out in unexpected heroism as unexpected malice. At first that’s scary: if people are their own universes, then we cannot predict what they will do or manipulate them into doing what we want. People are not predictable. The more I’ve lived with that scary truth, the more liberating it has become. If we cannot predict what people will do, then we can stop trying to do so.
Even if I’ve lost most of my capacity to be shocked, I haven’t lost my capacity to be moved, and I was deeply moved today – my eyes overflowing with tears today almost before my brain had processed what I was hearing on the news, and long before I realized how closely this would touch my hometown. We have lots of words to describe this sort of feeling-along-with – compassion, empathy, sympathy, etc – and clinicians and linguists parse them all a million ways to be specific to certain reactions. For me though, those terms don’t begin to describe what is truly prayer for me, this spontaneous heart-opening (and often heart-breaking) that I feel in times of sorrow.
Along with this heart-breaking often comes a longing for something else, for a world in which tragedy does not occur, and a readiness to be swept up in God’s presence before we make any more of a mess than we have. There must be a goodness we were made for: we weren’t made for what happened today. If we were made for this, I wouldn’t have felt like I got kicked in the stomach all morning. If we were made for this, the news wouldn’t be exploding with attempts to explain and describe this morning’s perpetrator. If we were made for this, people wouldn’t be shocked or angry or mystified. If we were made for violence and tragedy, everyone would accept this as if it were perfectly natural, an expected closing-of-the-door on the future. If we were made for this, the sun wouldn’t rise tomorrow.
The sun will rise tomorrow, and when the sun rises people will comfort each other, and grieve, and love stronger than ever. People will try to put back together what has been broken and comprehend the incomprehensible. What greater signs of hope than that we naturally move to comfort one another, to heal and to repair? When the sun rises tomorrow we will be brave enough to seek out the universe of others, to find the places our orbits cross and our stars align, with that foolish, blessed hope that in light of each others’ galaxies we can better know ourselves and each other.