The Endless Seconds of Good

The Endless Seconds of Good September 20, 2013

letters of schoolchildren

I was feeling a little shaky earlier this week, and it took me a few days to sort it out. I could point to this or that as the reason, but really I know a big part of it is that on Monday morning, there was another shooting. This time the shooting was in a building near a fountain and park where my family and I have gone to play and hang out, and a few blocks from a library where we just were last week for an excellent-and-fun Storytime. We were planning to go again to that same library for that same excellent-and-fun Storytime on Tuesday morning, but it seemed like the best thing to stay home, out of the fray and mayhem of the recovering area, and so we did. And just that would be enough to make me a little shaky—that we didn’t go to a public library storytime because of a shooting.

Then you add to it the photographs and stories of the victims and their families in the newspaper this week, and the choked-up voice of the shooter’s mother on the radio on Wednesday, and it’s all just a little bit too…real. And then you add to that the sense of hopelessness that is palpable right now amongst people trying to pass what I consider totally reasonable gun laws–um, mandatory background checks on people who want to purchase guns? Banning assault weapons? These things seem totally reasonable to me! I feel like our elected representatives are being held hostage by the NRA. So that makes me feel shaky, too.

In Monday’s paper, the one that was printed and delivered well before Aaron Alexis entered Building 197, there was a front page article telling the stories of some of the victims struggling to recover from the April 15th Boston bombing. Halfway into the article, another survivor of the bombing is introduced—Jarrod Clowery. The article talks about how “Clowery’s early days as an inpatient were the darkest; besides his physical injuries, he was deeply depressed and heavily medicated. Then letters began arriving from all over the world, many of them from schoolchildren. ‘They saved my ass,’ he says. ‘I could’ve gone down a dark path.’ His perspective began to change. ….’I got to see in the hospital what we’re capable of in terms of love and compassion,’ he says…. ‘The bomb is one second of pure evil, despicable, the worst. But it’s followed by endless seconds of the good people can do.’”

I know that what I need—what my heart needs, my spirit needs, and my family needs—are more stories like this one. I do not need to absorb more details about what precisely went on, moment-by-moment, in Building 197 on Monday morning. Instead, I need to immerse myself in all the endless seconds of good that followed, that are still unfolding, that were and are already happening, all the time, the little and large kindnesses that create a mostly-civil, mostly-functional society. I need to just take a breath and sit still for awhile and recognize that, without ignoring how much pain there is in the world, in many places, right now, there is also great joy, love, beauty, grace, peace, and gladness. There is goodness, right here, in this apartment that I am tidying up, in the child and parent that are sleeping peacefully in the other room, in the beauty of the fall day that will unfold tomorrow and that has the possibility, still, of being transformative, in a good way, for all of us. There are countless, endless seconds of good that vastly outnumber the awful seconds of tragedy. Yes: we have so much work to do to make this world a more peaceful place. But that work must spring from love of this world, not fear; calm and grounded determination, not panic.

I want to live in the endless seconds of good as much and as often as I can. It is a constant mental adjustment for me, a continual tuning and re-tuning of the instrument that is my brain. If I remind myself to, I gently smile at people, I trust that the person driving behind me is alert and paying attention, I offer a kind word and a breath of patience to those who are helping me. We are all human beings with families and stressors and challenges. May we believe and live in “the endless seconds of good” so that we may, ourselves, contribute to the goodness in our world and reduce, in whatever ways we can, the oceans of pain.

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