Oftentimes, when I sifting through angry emails or moderating the comboxes and releasing comments from people who would presume to tell me I am going to hell, or that I am “outside of the church” (as an aside, I am fascinated by people who declare that on the basis of a single word, they know all about me and the state of my soul; there are people in Vegas who would pay cash-money to see that trick) I think back to what my dear Pope Benedict XVI, my spiritual “Pop-pop” has said:
It is only when life has been accepted and is perceived as accepted that it becomes also acceptable. Man is that strange creature that needs not just physical birth but also appreciation if he is to subsist . . . If an individual is to accept himself, someone must say to him: “It is good that you exist” – must say it, not with words, but with that act of the entire being that we call love. – Principles of Catholic Theology
That is one of the greatest life-lessons I have ever come across and tried to absorb, and its one that requires practice. When I get a lot hate mail (currently, it’s mostly of the run-of-the-mill “yer a homophobe” and “yer a fat fag hag” variety, with many consignments to hell between them), I take a breath, and internally say those words to the writer:
“It is good that you exist.”
It is astonishing how quickly bringing that thought to mind — remembering that each of us is created and sustained by the ardent “yes” of the Creator — tamps down my old Irish temper, and inspires me to simply pray the prayer Julie Davis shared with me, long ago:
“Lord have mercy on me and bless [insert name here]”
And then, I let it go. If I have time, I’ll try to respectfully engage, but increasingly, that’s not possible, either because time is at a premium or because people have fallen out of practice with (and become suspicious of) respectful engagement, or they have begun cherry-picking and then misrepresenting my words, which moves them away from fighting-in-good-faith, and closer to lying.
And who has two thumbs and no time for that? This girl!
All of this was brought to mind by this arresting video of a nurse who takes the time to really see the person before him, and to even gift them with a real demonstration that it is good the other exists:
I’m not sure whether anything better-communicates to someone that “it is good” that he or she exists, than taking the time to sing to them — or to read to them, which is something I rarely experienced as a child, and value as an adult. Making eye contact, too, communicates it, but it’s so difficult because it is so direct; for many it’s too intimate, and makes them too vulnerable.
Because my brother had a massive stroke at a young age, and eventually could not live with us (this was way before visiting assistance) we would bring him home on weekends, and when we went to get him from the facility the older people would come up to me, so hungry for company, asking “are you my daughter? Would you like to talk to me?” It was scary for a kid to encounter, but also, heartbreaking. People would be parked for hours in wheelchairs, before a television set, and there ignored. This nurse gets it. He sees the people before him and gives them the message: “it is good that you exist.”
We live in such a throw-away culture. Women throw away their babies; children (not all of them) put their declining elders into facilities and then forget about them. Others argue for euthanasia, sometimes in the crassest terms possible:
Baroness Warnock in the Sunday Times announcing, “One of the things that would motivate me [to die] is I couldn’t bear hanging on and being such a burden on people. . . . I don’t see what is so horrible about the motive of not wanting to be an increasing nuisance. If I went into a nursing home it would be a terrible waste of money that my family could use far better.”
Poor Baroness Warnock seems ready and willing to reduce herself to a thing, and not to understand that it is good that she exists — that she will always be something more than a mere nuisance or a waste of money.
Or perhaps she fears living in a world where others do not understand it.
People throw other people away by blowing them up; by terrorizing them.
They throw people away when they write to me demanding that someone they don’t like be fired and deprived of his or her livelihood, when it would be so much easier (and healthier) for the person to simply not read them.
People throw people away by blithely sending them to hell, as though they are God — who himself sends no one to hell, because he has given all Judgement to Christ Jesus, before whom we will all eventually stand and face our lives. And in the light of his Truth, we will know where we belong. I’m not fit for heaven, myself, and I surely know it, but I do hold out hopes for Purgatory.
Throwing people away, either literally or metaphorically, seems to me a very un-Catholic thing to do. In those times when “it is good that you exist” seem like the most challenging six words in the world, that’s when we most need to bring them to the fore — speak them to another or to oneself — in order to break the tension and gain some perspective on just how puny we really are in all of our bloviations. Six little words can help us to see the personhood of the one with whom we are in disagreement — that he or she is not simply an amorphous blob of ideo-theological energy exploding off a screen.
And when we see the person before us as a genuine and God-beloved human being, it becomes — or it should become — more difficult to simply dismiss them, or mindlessly lob buzzwords and bumpersticker cant their way; even more difficult to suggest “oh, I know all about you” on the basis of a single word, or line, or even a year’s worth of blogposts.
What a conceit that is, to think one can know all about another, especially in this medium. Ultimately, we none of us know a damn thing about anyone else we are reading and engaging with on the internet, except the small pieces we are shown, and were I to write a million words on any issue — were I to write a memoir that would alternately enrage you and break your heart — you still would not know me. And if you were to comment on every line of my prose, I would still be utterly ignorant of who you really are.
But we could both try very hard to know these two things:
Have compassion for everyone you meet,
even if they don’t want it. What seems conceit,
bad manners, or cynicism is always a sign
of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen.
You do not know what wars are going on
down there where the spirit meets the bone.
– Miller Williams
“It is good that you exist.”
Imagine how the world in all of its furies might truly begin to flourish toward peace, if we could keep just those two things in mind.
Anyway, I’ll keep trying. I’ve been told that intention counts!
Middle image mine, bottom image via Bing