Last weekend I travelled to New York City to meet my friend for a Saturday matinee of The Book of Mormon. It was my first ever trip away from my daughter, and my last solo sojourn before the birth of my son. It also happened to be the day after a deadly terrorist rampage in Paris. There was a noticeable security presence on the train from New Haven to Grand Central, with a bomb sniffing dog patrolling the aisles of the Metro-North cars; In the subway station below Times Square, there were loads of officers seemingly on standby.
The theater was a welcome reprieve from the sorrow and stress of the terrible deeds of deranged killers across the Atlantic. The show itself was a raunchy and riotous roasting of religions in general- and Mormonism specifically. Part of the plot is based on the tradition of (mostly) white (mostly) males setting out on missions to “save” those who do not know (their) God. The show felt decidedly gratuitous (over the top vulgarity care of the creators of South Park) but simultaneously necessary (the First Amendment must be cherished and protected) in the face of so much recent stifling and uproar about freedom of speech, religious persecution, and the idea of a “safe space.” In the wake of the Parisian terrorist attacks, it also felt almost decadent (“Who are we to be laughing and enjoying something so silly when so many are suffering?”) but, to boot, important (“We must not cower in fear and lose our vitality- we must live!”).
I can’t help but marvel: twenty years ago, I went to London to study theater, and I traveled Europe freely, easily, with no real sense of danger. The only “scary” moments in Paris were those in close proximity to the machine-gun toting teenagers patrolling the train station; and even then, I remember feeling intimidated, not actual fear. It was a different world, of course, and I can’t help but wonder what it will look like in 20 years when my children are young adults traversing it.
The reality is, it’s altogether too easy to feel powerless in the face of the many problems in this world; the “chain of pain” and perpetual war, the cycle of violence, and the systematic injustices can make anyone feel small and insignificant.
But I will not despair. Instead I can’t help but feel gratitude for all the blessings we do have. As individuals we don’t need to aim to affect change on a geo-political-military-industrial scale, instead we can help our children think globally, by encouraging them to act locally. We can help our kids develop empathy and kindness by turning off the never-ending (bad) news cycle on tv and tuning into the voices of those in need around us.
At this time of year especially, there are many ways to “make a difference” in the world. There are opportunities for each of us to contribute- whether it be through donations to refugee mothers in need as far away as Greece, or donations to displaced domestic violence victims as near as the next town over. We can volunteer in soup kitchens, or offer to rake a neighbor’s lawn. We can pay our entrance fees for holiday fun runs with canned food or toys for tots. We absolutely can make a difference with our friends and family, within our local community (and our global one).
We are strong; let’s remember (and remind one another as needed) that this journey called life is more marathon than sprint. Let’s be motivated by the heart and happiness, kindness and compassion; let’s resist the calls for fear and divisiveness. This Thanksgiving and throughout the holiday season, let’s come together in the name of unity and love. Let’s let love rule.