There are no words, for example, to make sense of the fact that there have been 92 school shootings since Sandy Hook and still our leaders fail to pass laws that could prevent such violence.
No words that capture the destruction that industrialized agriculture has wrought on our communities, our bodies, and our climate in the name of profit.
No words for the horrors of war. For poverty. For the rampant sexism and rape culture that continue to rear their ugly twin heads.
And certainly no words that can accurately describe the brokenness of a culture that could fail to hold Darren Wilson accountable for the killing of Michael Brown.
Despite my love for the power of language, I find it fails me often. And yet, I continue to try because silence on the part of those in a position to make change is part of the problem.
Anne LaMott writes the following in her stunning book Help, Thanks, Wow (in the section entitled "Help":
"Death will not be the end of the story. [...]
Human lives are hard, even those of health and privilege, and don't make much sense. This is the message of the Book of Job: Any snappy explanation of suffering you can come up with will be horseshit. [...]
But where do we even start on the daily walk of restoration and awakening? We start where we are. We find God in our human lives, and that includes the suffering. I get thirsty people glasses of water, even if that thirsty person is just me."
I don't know how to fix the world's ills. I have my opinions, some passionately held. I don't pretend to be an activist (and in fact, find myself somewhat nauseated by the waves of temporary "armchair activism" these events tend to provoke), but my eyes are open to--and weep for--the pain and suffering of the human predicament, and I attempt to live out my values in the choices I make, in how I relate to the world.
So I don't know the answer. I don't even know how to articulate the not-knowing. But I have found some things to be true for myself. And in times of great pain, when I thirst an unquenchable thirst for an answer that will not come, I reach for glasses of water.
Here are a few.
I know the opposite of death is life, and I know the definition of life is creation. So I surround myself with acts of creation: works of music, art, and literature that move me. I inhale books like they're air and I exhale through my own written words. In this way, I stay alive.
I know that technology helps us achieve incredible things, but that, for me, it does not replace the bonds that foster real understanding. I have started leaving my phone in another room during dinner. My laptop remains unopened most weekends. I stop whatever I'm texting to look cashiers in the eye. It's not much, but it's something and I sometimes feel my humanity depends on it. Perhaps it does.
I know that my perspective hinges entirely on having an intimate and sustained relationship with the earth. Like, the actual earth. Walking on it, hiking its mountains, and dipping my toes in its icy cold lakes.
I believe peace, inner and outer, is not a fortuitous state, but a conscious and deliberate act. I spend a lot of time by myself and I try to pay attention to my thoughts. I have awakened to the fact that I get to choose the ones I want to keep and discard the rest.
I know that prayer, even to an unnamed source, helps.
And that a nourishing meal, thoughtfully prepared by hand from whole ingredients, can be an act of rebellion in a world of on-demand convenience.
Do not misunderstand. I have no magic answer, no prescription for what ails us.
I have no snappy explanation for human suffering, no cleverly packaged horseshit to offer.
But if you're thirsty too, perhaps we can get glasses of water for each other.