I had a rather large glass of wine last night while I was watching the election results roll in, and I fell asleep before the finale. I was awakened at 2:16 am by a text from my eldest daughter: “I don’t know if you’re up and saw the results of the election. Be careful going on social media tomorrow.” My youngest also texted me: “Why is he allowed to be the president, mom? I’m so scared.”
Yesterday, I wrote this post: A List of People Who Are Human Beings in No Particular Order.
I wrote it in 10 minutes. I know it’s a hot mess in spots. I also know it’s incomplete in a lot of ways—and I want to correct a piece of that tonight.
A baby taking its first breath.
A momma who chose not to carry her baby to term.
The nurse who assisted with the procedure.
The pastor holding a condemning sign outside the clinic.
The man forcing his girlfriend to stay in the waiting room.
Hi. It’s Kelley. It’s been more than two months since my last
The last few weeks, I’ve been wholly self-absorbed. My youngest squirrel graduated from high school. We sold one house and bought another (much smaller) one. We discovered none of our furniture would fit in the new place, so we spent hours shopping for a bunch of new stuff (which is not nearly as fun as it sounds) (first-world problems).
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She was sitting on the shoulder of an I-70 west on-ramp, holding a sign that read, “SOUTH.” She was wearing plastic sunglasses and a hoodie, and to her left was a collection of 11 or 12 suitcases and duffle bags. As Launa and I passed by her, we talked for a moment about going back to let the woman know she was sitting in the wrong spot to go south, and we marveled about all of her bags, and we wondered who might’ve dropped her there and why.
An hour later, Launa texted me: “I can’t stop thinking about that woman on the side of the road.”
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Today, we’ll have plenty of opportunities to argue about any number of things: guns, immigration, abortion, political candidates, the origins of poverty, same-sex marriage, health care, standardized testing, gender equality, Black Lives Matter, the economy, climate change, and more.
Three summers ago, my family took an epic road trip to Washington, D.C. In the planning of the trip, each of us chose one, non-negotiable stop on the tour. Mine was the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
I’m sure Jack was expecting me to drag him around some “art” museum (those are his air quotes, not mine); you see, I’m not exactly a history buff. (My dad just laughed out loud. I heard him from 58 miles away.) I actually loathe history museums. Typically, while Jack takes his time at each and every exhibit reading every.single.placard., I flit around the displays, thoughtfully nodding my head on occasion so I look more interested than I actually am. Which is not at all. So, my DC non-negotiable came as a bit of a surprise. Honestly, I chose the Holocaust Museum because I’d been told it would wreck me, and I appreciate an occasional wrecking.
I knew, of course, the basics of the Holocaust—concentration camps and gas chambers, Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and Elie Wiesel’s Night. What I didn’t remember—or, more likely, what was conveniently left out of my junior high school curriculum—was the United States’ response to the Jewish refugees.
My memory’s a little sketchy, but it seems like the museum was bathed in a sort of dim, grayish-blue light. It was packed with tourists, most of them silently sliding their eyes across the displays or whispering to one another, holding their children close. After spending several minutes in the audio theater listening to Auschwitz survivors tell their stories, I got myself together (wrecked, indeed) and worked my way through the crowd to a corner of the room I’d not yet explored.
I began reading… and stopped. I shook my head, as if to clear away the confusion, and began again. As I read through the end of the placard, a hot flush of shame made its way from my chest to my neck. I turned to Jack.
“We didn’t let them in?”
“Seriously? We didn’t let them in? But what about that poem? The ‘huddled masses yearning to breathe free’ poem! The one at the base of the Statue of Liberty! We didn’t let them in?”
We’re not going to do this again, are we?
Yes, I’m nervous about terrorists posing as Syrian refugees. Yes, I’m nervous about the extreme differences of opinion regarding our ability to adequately vet them. But I’m also nervous in movie theaters and about the reality that our kids have “intruder drills.” (And a whole bunch of other things, too.) I’m not convinced that one fear or another is more reasonable. For those of us who are Christ-followers, fear shouldn’t get a vote, anyway. Jesus said a lot of confusing things, but His words in Matthew 25:35-40 aren’t among them.
I’m a pretty simple girl, and I know this situation is profoundly complicated and messy and polarizing. But I also know these Syrian refugees are human beings. They’re people of worth and value—no less worth than you and I. They’re not the enemy. If we could look them in the eye, we would see ourselves.
Please. Let’s not do this again.
Schadenfreude is “pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.” And it sure seems like there’s way, WAY too much of it going around.
- There’s a 33-minute-long “Epic Fails” YouTube video with more than 31 million views.
- People think it’s awesome when celebrities gain a bunch of weight and/or have a mental health crisis.
- When it comes to news outlets, if it bleeds it leads.
- There were seven Saw movies, for crying out loud.
Then there’s the “karma’s a bitch” version of schadenfreude:
- We high-five our co-workers when the Office Jerk gets passed over for a promotion he was just certain would be his.
- We hear about the Ashley Madison data breach, and we make Chris Pratt’s Parks & Rec face.
- We delight in the Duggars’ whole awful mess.
I realize a certain degree of schadenfreude is normal; we might even feel vindicated when someone has a what-goes-around-comes-around moment. But maybe we could engage our filters and not publicly participate in snarky, mean-spirited celebrations of other people’s Yuck—no matter how awful they seem to us.
Please hear me: I’m not talking about shrugging our shoulders and wink-winking at bad behavior. I’m just saying we shouldn’t laugh and cheer about it. I don’t think Jesus does a little I-told-you-so happy dance when someone tanks. I think He despairs over the mess we’ve made of things, dispenses grace, and then helps us figure out where we went wrong.
Schadenfreude isn’t particularly Christ-like. No wonder our culture sees us as judgmental, hypocritical jerks. No wonder people don’t want to have anything to do with us and our churches.
So, let’s try this. Grace first. Grace first. Grace first.
A few years ago, I had an ampersand tattooed on the top of my right foot. You know… one of these guys:
Aside from being my favorite typographical symbol (What? Doesn’t everyone have one of those?), it’s also a succinct way of describing my philosophy of humanity:
There’s always more to the story.
I’m obnoxiously empathic. Obnoxiously. As far as character flaws go, I’d argue that having too much empathy is better than having none at all, but, as people who are constantly exposed to my persistent, “Now wait a sec. Have you thought about it this way?” my family would disagree.
Case in point: When my girls complained about a bully in middle school, the first thing out of my mouth wasn’t, “Oh, honey. That sucks.” It was, “Oh wow. Do you think she has a tough home life, maybe?” Eventually, Emily began starting her stories with, “Okay, mom. I’m going to tell you about a mean kid, and I need you to take my side this time. Seriously. Please.”
Here’s another one: On the afternoon of September 11, 2001, I was sitting on the living floor talking with my husband (of three months) about the terrorist pilots who destroyed buildings and lives and families and our country’s sense of safety and security. Before I could choke back the words, I heard myself say, “Those men are someone’s sons!” Jack’s mouth dropped open. “Are you seriously feeling sorry for the terrorists?!” (No, I wasn’t. Well, not exactly, anyway. I was feeling heartbroken for everyone.)
And another one: Jack and I were sitting at a little cafe in August of 2014, talking about the rioting, looting, protesting, fire-setting, tear-gassing, and general melee happening in Ferguson, Missouri. I can’t remember what I said exactly, but it must’ve been a doozy, because Jack shook his head, looked me straight in the eye, and said, “You’ve gone too far. You’re so open-minded that you’ve come all the way around to close-minded.”
I can’t help it, though; I’m naturally wired to see the other side—or sides—of a situation. Giving people the benefit of the doubt is just what I do. I guess I simply can’t stand to think that there are truly “bad” people in the world; I just know there’s a reason for their behavior, and I want to find it and understand it. Without exception, there is a why. There is always, always more to the story.
He’s a hateful and arrogant man and his father beat the hell out of him, his mom took his dad’s side, and he spent months on the streets before his aunt and uncle finally took him in.
She’s promiscuous and her mom was an alcoholic who had multiple boyfriends, one of whom repeatedly sexually abused her.
They stole cigarettes and they were trying to pay off the landlord so they wouldn’t be evicted.
She lost her job for no-call-no-shows and her husband was killed in an accident three months ago and she just can’t seem to get it together.
They drive a Benz to the food pantry every week and it was paid off when she lost her job, and they sleep in it sometimes when they can’t scrape together enough for a hotel.
And. And. And.
More than 20 years ago, I heard someone end a story about a new neighbor with, “I have no use for her.” Just typing that phrase makes me cringe. I don’t care if the neighbor’s a foul-mouthed, chain-smoker who keeps parking her car directly across from my driveway and lets her dog leave gifts on my front lawn. No human being should have a “use” to anyone. She’s not a commodity. She’s a human being. And there are likely darn good reasons—or at least a compelling explanation—for her decidedly non-neighbor-ish behavior.
I know there are dangers in thinking this way. Sometimes I’m just flat wrong. Sometimes, rather than just seeking out an explanation, I wind up making excuses. I get taken advantage of. I get hurt. I spend too much energy trying to fix what’s not mine to fix. And that sucks.
But so does missing the rest of a good story.
In the 19-ish hours since I first posted about my resignation, I’ve been called a lot of things: Brave. Courageous. Bold. Hero. A whole lot of people—some of whom I’ve never even met—offered support, told me they’re proud of me, applauded my integrity, said they admire me. I am truly overwhelmed by the outpouring of encouragement and love.
But. Please, please let’s not lose sight of this: It’s not about me. It’s about all of us.
It’s about all of us deciding enough is enough—that we will not tolerate the mistreatment of any human being. Ever.
It’s about all of us pulling our assumptions and biases and prejudices out from under the moldy tarps in our heads and looking at them in the light—critically, honestly, and completely.
It’s about all of us deciding to see the sacred in one another. When we move about the world wearing those lenses, we can’t help but love people. Yes, even the ones who make us absolutely crazy with their ridiculous opinions and stupid voting decisions and illogical conclusions and horrible, horrible taste in music (I’m looking at you, Nickelback fans). Because there’s sacred in them, too.
It’s about all of us coming to this radical, paradigm-shifting understanding: We don’t have to agree with one another to love one another. In fact, I can’t think of a single pre-requisite to loving someone. My friend, Jennifer, demonstrated that so profoundly today. Her response to my post was a simple, “I love you, Kelley.” She could’ve added a dozen qualifiers… but she didn’t. There’s just nothing more life-giving than pure, unconditional love.
It’s about all of us being broken, right out in the open. We’ll be so much better off in a “Me too!” culture than in this mask-wearing, facade-bearing thing we have going on right now. Not a single one of us has it all together. (In fact, I’ve decided that the plural of person might as well be mess.) We can “get” each other—we just have to be willing to show ourselves first.
It’s all about of us raising our hopeful voices (thank you, Glen Hansard). Something amazing happened today, friends. By participating in our conversation—through likes or shares or comments—you inspired hope. And I, for one, was in desperate need of that.
Thank you, thank you, thank you. Let’s keep talking, okay?
*The photo at the top of this post is of a necklace my dearest friend gave to me tonight–as a reminder that there is hope. Our world can be different—better—and we can help it along. I will probably wear it every day for the next three years. Don’t judge me. Also, please take a peek at thegivingkeys.com. The company employs people transitioning out of homelessness (LOVE!), and you might just find a key for someone who needs it.