When it rains, it pours.
A friend sent me an email a few weeks ago. “Does it ever feel like everyone around you is suffering?” she lamented, sharing stories of those around her.
Yes, yes it does.
I can’t do the simple things these days without it being complicated.
You see, I start to cook for the three of us. Scratch that, the four of us. Baby Bear has decided that anything we eat, he should eat too. (Wow, having a baby results in Maternal Attention Deficit Disorder where you can’t have a normal conversation without the baby topic sneaking in there. Yikes. Where was I?) So there I am cooking and it isn’t just about feeding us and the little ones anymore. I start to think of Miriam, the pint-sized grandmother who had the handle of a pot of boiling water break as she picked it up. The scalding liquid spilled all over her arms and legs. She probably isn’t eating properly, I thought. I need to bring her food. I think of my friend’s mother-in-law who is about to go through her second round of chemo. They’ll need a meal in a few days too.
When I change the baby I think of Lorenzo in the hospital and how the poor man is so ill he needs adult diapers but there aren’t any and maybe I should send more wipes. When I feed Micah, I think of the week-old baby whose single mother is comatose and I wish she was closer so we could help. I shower and I think of Paulita and how in her final days of cancer with all systems failing, she is insecure about her odor. That’s just a few. That doesn’t even touch on the reality of living in a country where poverty is part of daily existence—poverty and a poverty of hope.
“You know,” a friend said to me this week, “what you guys are doing is great. Here, more than anywhere except for maybe some parts in Africa, people need hope.”
Part of the suffering is due to place, certainly. Some places of the world have undergone atrocities and horrific ordeals. Yet I don’t agree with her. Everyone needs hope. Anywhere you go, anywhere you look, you can find suffering. No one is immune. And the suffering starts to sneak into your daily routines. It shows up in the places that used to be safe, or at least neutral. No matter how many meals you pack up, how many head scarves and diapers and prayers, they don’t outweigh the suffering. It can start to feel pretty dark.
Darkness is a funny thing. It takes the familiar scenery of our days and drapes it with threat. Nothing in the architecture shifts and yet we walk into walls. Things haven’t moved out of their pace yet we fumble for our glasses. The squeaky toy was there in the middle of the floor all day long yet we step on it in the middle of the night. Darkness renders the familiar unfamiliar. Suffering makes even our most minute routines feel wrought with anguish.
This morning, my son and I were talking as he tried to climb on wrought iron garden table with its chipping white paint. “Sometimes I’m scared of the dark,” he stated as the table tipped him backwards.
“What helps you feel safe?” I asked him.
“Praying helps,” he said “a little bit. My nightlight helps a little bit more. And snuggles are safer than anything.”
Prayer, nightlights, snuggles.
Part of me wished he would have changed the order. Night lights, snuggles, then prayers. But then I would have been spiritually smug and wouldn’t have asked myself the same question—“what makes me feel safe when things are dark? What helps others?” Praying helps, yes. I don’t ever want to downplay that. Yet what does James say? (Keep in mind that, according to the Message Remix, James was nicknamed Old Camel Knees for the way his firm commitment to prayer disfigured his knees.) He says that real religion is reaching out to the homeless and loveless in their plight…
It just made me ask the question: do we sometimes hide behind prayer, throwing words at the heavens because we don’t know what to do with people’s pain? Maybe they really need is something tangible, something human, prayer with skin on, like maybe a snuggle.