Trigger warning: This post mentions graphic violence, 9/11, and current events in Iraq.
I remember the sun shining, waves of heat rising from the concrete parking lot of Sonic. My hand, sweat-sticky, clutched the gear shift of Rob’s VW Thing. I could hardly hear his voice over the puttering roar of the engine in the open air. The car lurched forward, nearly stalled, and then sputtered out when I couldn’t find second. I was giggling behind my dollar-store aviators, Rob laughing out loud at my inability to keep the car rolling for more than a few parking spots.
We were falling in love. Clouds hung lazy in the big Texas sky and cars moved through the intersection as the light clicked yellow-red-green. When his hand brushed mine, I could feel it in the roots of my hair.
It was September 11, 2001. Not before planes had become weapons, hurtling through the sky to tear apart buildings and lives, but a few hours after.
We had heard the news, listened and watched and wept and mourned and prayed. Then we left the church where we worked and had lunch and he taught me to drive stick. That day, I remember, there was the sense of gravity and loss and horror, but there was also the strong sense of life moving on and moving forward all around us. You cannot stop birds from flying and cars from driving and phone calls from being made. You can’t even keep yourself from falling in love.
It seems so wrong to live your life when across the country, ashes are thick in throats and bodies are buried under rubble. How do you grieve and yet also live?
This week I have been heavy with the thoughts of far-away suffering. While I have been gathering papers to register for Sawyer for school and nursing a baby and wiping down the kitchen table again and again, my mind has been with the people of Iraq. The name, like an evil hiss in my mind: ISIS. I prayed silently, but it did not feel like enough. I read articles, but they felt hollow.
And then I saw the photograph. A little girl’s legs, knees a little wobbly like Cooper’s from only recently learning to walk. I saw her legs and the tears came, even before I saw the rest of the photograph: the blood around the collar of her sweater, the space above that looked so wrong without a neck or head. The next photo, her father clinging to the body of his headless little girl, those Cooper-legs dangling from his arms. His face a mix of outrage and grief.
I weep now, thinking of it. Thinking of my little Cooper with her messy hair and the gangly, awkward gait. I had not thought to give thanks for her head, but I give thanks for it now and pray for that father around the world, whom I will never meet.
But what is it worth, my quiet tears on the couch while I have four peaceful, sleeping babies and a stack of dirty dishes in the sink? I have Netflix and school supplies to buy. I have a very ordinary life, far removed from rape and starvation and children being killed for simply for reasons that are not reason enough.
What does my grief matter? What can it DO?
I don’t know if you feel like me in the face of Iraq and Ebola in Africa and all the other daily horrors in and around this world. I don’t know if you struggle with how to care and how to love and how to grieve and how to connect and maybe most of all, how to ACT. How to take those feelings and the compassion and the grief and make it move into something. Especially when there are dishes to do and children who need reminding to brush their teeth and a floor desperately in need of a good scrub.
I would say to you what I say to myself: FEEL. Events do not need to touch your life for you to connect. I’m not sure what that would take for you, but find a way to feel for these events. Let them be real to you, even if that is painful and difficult.
I would say to you: PRAY. These events beg prayer but also bring to mind those questions of God’s goodness, his sovereignty, his plan for this world. Bring your requests, bring your doubts, bring your rage and outrage and your fear. David does this in the Psalms and if he could pray his real heart, good and bad, we can as well. Prayer matters and God hears. Pray.
I would say: DO. I found a site that has some specific ways to pray as well as specific information as to what is happening in Iraq. You can even donate money. Spread the word, send your overflow, tell your friends who may have more overflow than you this month. Being across the world doesn’t mean we cannot DO. We can. So let us. Let us not stop with feeling and praying, but let us continue with doing.
This week as we go about buying school clothes or showing up to our jobs or sitting in traffic, let the grief in. We can do our ordinary while grieving silently, and we can make an impact both here and there and even, I believe, in eternity.
I may not look like I am haunted by the image of lifeless, little-girl legs dangling from her father’s arms, but know if you see me this week that I am haunted. I am grieved. I am praying, though you may not see that either, and I am DOING. Even something small.
Will you join me in grief, or can I join you in yours? Can we feel and pray and do together for this broken world and the horrors in it? If I know you are there too, I won’t feel so alone. And maybe, just maybe, across the world our prayers will stretch like a chain of invisible (but powerful) hope.
(Click here to visit Christian Aid for information and the ability to contribute aid.)