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Hunting Only for Kindness

I was scrubbing the dishes this evening, hot steam rising up from the sink, when I realized what was getting to me. Earlier I had been mind-wandering on Facebook and looked at some posts of friends and some videos. I had felt a gnawing anxious pit in my stomach, and still, a half hour later, it was lingering. The article, photos, and videos I’d watched were of the people the FBI is now searching for, the suspected perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombing. Over 17,000 people had “liked” and “shared” these photos & videos via Facebook alone, and the FBI is clearly asking that people do that, to spread the word, to gather tips.

But I know I don’t know those people, pictured and shown. I knew it the minute I saw the images. Really I was 99.99% certain I didn’t know them days ago, so why did I even look at the link? And why did I then click on the article, the press release, and the video clips? What sucked me (and 17,000 other people) in? I’m so glad I don’t have TV or live with someone who watches the evening news; I’m already so affected by the stories and the photographs I glance at in the newspaper. What can I tell from the photos and videos? They look like two ordinary young men who might live in Boston, to me. They are somebody’s sons.

I’m grateful that our kid isn’t old enough to know anything about all the tragedies of this week—the Boston Marathon bombing, the Senate’s rejection of any progress on gun control, the fire and explosion in West, Texas. I’m not a pollyanna enough to think that there won’t be plenty of disturbing events when she is old enough to understand and ask us about them, but I’m grateful that that time has not come yet. I still have time to sort out my own feelings in the quiet sanctuary of my heart and head. I still have time to clear my mind and have a cup of tea and, once she’s asleep, sit someplace peaceful and sort through my thoughts.

What came to me while I was washing dishes, what helped loosen the knot in my stomach, is my clarity that I just seem to see things differently than our country’s leaders, differently even than some of my neighbor friends. Understanding my own reaction and knotted stomach helps me breathe again. What I realized—what I remembered—is that I just don’t believe in good versus evil. My reaction to seeing the photos is not “good, I hope they go get them.” I would not be able to say, as President Obama said on Monday evening, that “any responsible individuals…will feel the full weight of justice.” It’s not that I don’t believe in justice, nor that I don’t recognize the awful pain that has been caused and that continues to reverberate throughout the Boston area and beyond. But the way that Obama’s statement has been taken out of the context of his larger, thoughtful reflection and made into the slogan of what is now a nationwide manhunt just sickens me. I don’t want to be a part of that manhunt. There are people whose job it is to find the people who did this horrible thing. It is not my job. I do not, I will not, be brought along into this manhunt. I do not trust us as a nation of people who will respond carefully. We are all still learning, still growing up, still figuring out how to be civil in a world where terrorist acts are familiar to so many people in other countries but something we just don’t expect here; for better and for worse, we have not learned how to respond calmly to terrorist acts in our own country. As Amy Davidson wrote in The New Yorker this week: “It is at these moments that we need to be most careful, not least.” Our national conversation about “good vs. evil” is so immature, so colored by Star Wars, Disney, the Lone Ranger, cowboy Westerns and reality TV.

So instead of spending another moment online as those photos get plastered on every news site and social media feed, I’m going to keep doing dishes. I’m going to drink my tea. I’m going to savor that our child knows nothing of all this and I’m going to read Snuggle Puppy to her a dozen more times tomorrow. The world is complex and messy, nuanced and hurting: I know this. There will come a time when we leave our little home and I have to explain the pain we encounter out there: I know that, too. But the other thing I know, that I am just learning how to articulate now as a new mom, is that this is what I can offer her: I can fill her up with love and laughter, I can help her be calm when she falls, I can show her that things happen, good and bad, and what is important is how we choose to respond. I can model for her how to be calm and grounded and not rush to conclusions, not rush to hurt someone else when she gets hurt. We all get hurt. What I’d like to see more of is not passing the hurt on and on and on in a mad rush to blame, corner, arrest, punish, imprison, and execute. I am glad that there are others whose job it is to identify the perpetrators of these crimes. It is my job to teach love: resilient, determined, unfaltering love. Love that includes kindness, compassion, calmness, humility, forgiveness, and learning about the tender fragility and inherent worth and dignity of all people everywhere so that one less child grows up to walk through a crowd of families and friends, children and students, and set down a backpack with a bomb in it.

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The Wrath of Pew and the Road to Character

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