Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Says a lot…

I’ve mentioned before my belief that, if anything good comes of tragic events, it’s that people often respond with greater compassion and community awareness. I witnessed this dynamic nearly firsthand during my senior year in high school. On April 20, not far from my house, in the halls of Columbine High School (which I did not attend, by the way), two disturbed young men opened fire on their classmates and teachers. It was the deadliest school shooting in American history. And for months, a dark veil of grief and shock hung over my suburban community.

At the same time, though, people in grocery stores or at the mall didn’t cast distrustful, fearful glances upon strangers and fellow shoppers. Rather, they- we- made a point of helping others out; holding doors longer and more frequently, going out of our way to smile and say thanks. At a couple makeshift memorial sites in a park adjacent to Columbine, people left cards, flowers and posters, expressing their pain, loss and sorrow. And we didn’t judge whether those mourners ‘had a right’ to their emotional turmoil or not. Instead, we nodded in respectful silence, even occasionally joined hands and prayed. I learned those weeks that, while humans may not be totally decent at our core, at the very least there’s good in most of us, that tragedy can somehow bring out.

I also learned, in the months that followed, that this deep down goodness can just as easily recede, be forgotten, get buried in the rush of life. For as that fateful afternoon faded in our collective consciousnesses, the normal indifference that had typified my suburban community reestablished itself as the renewed normal. People didn’t stop to help as much. Smiles gave way to scowls. Again, folk muttered about, “Those darned kids” or “Those clueless geezers,” and ‘community’ evaporated under the heat ‘isolation.’ So I wonder- why do we all feel so busy and self-involved in normal times, when during extraordinary times it’s easy take time out to be kind?

Sorry for sounding dreary just days after Christmas! It’s just that I noticed this year a similar dynamic taking shape. Last Saturday, I stopped by my old house to pick up a package. We’d ordered a gift for friends and meant to give it to them Christmas Day, but alas, accidentally shipped it to house we used to rent. So I rung the old doorbell, and the current renters answered the door. I said, “Hi, I’m Shane. I used to live here. Did you receive our box from Amazon?” They said, “We got it right here.” I answered, “Thanks a lot!” They said, “No problem. And by the way, Happy Holidays!”

This wasn’t the first such interaction I’ve had in the past month. In fact, since basically the week before Thanksgiving, I’ve ended many a conversation with such a sentiment of my own. Happy Holidays! Merry Christmas! Enjoy the Turkey! Or whatever. And usually, this is in addition to the typical, “Have a nice day.” During the Holidays, it seems, we- many of us, at least- feel impelled to go the extra step, take an additional moment to wish goodwill and peace upon the world and people around us. Thankfully, it’s a wonderful event, not a tragic one, that moves us to such kindness. Nevertheless, when this Sunday has passed, and we’ve no longer an extra reason to be extra kind (Happy New Year!), what does it say about us that, in all likelihood, we’ll revert to the same ole quick and meaning-starved clich├ęs to end our interactions with neighbors and strangers?

I don’t know, in truth. Maybe it doesn’t say much at all. But, it still being the holidays, and since I’m feeling especially optimistic, perhaps this year will be different. Maybe people- I, we- will keep finding excuses to express excessive kindness. A random, “Merry Monday!” Or surprising, “Happy Saturday!” That’d be something, wouldn’t it? Exuberant outbursts of goodness as a normal, not abnormal, event. It’d be like we began believing that all of life is extraordinary, every moment a gift from God. It’d be like we began believing…what God already believes about us.


Grace and Peace,
Shane
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