Certain words just speak to me. Something about its sound. It makes me pause. And even though I think I know the word’s meaning, I pull out my “Webster’s Universal College Dictionary” and look it up.
Inexorable is one of those words. It’s the second meaning that spoke to me: “not to be persuaded, moved, or affected by prayers or entreaties; merciless.”
As I prepare myself today to again stand vigil for the children abducted from their parents at the border, it’s the word mercy that comes to me. I pause, pull out the dictionary, and look it up: “compassionate or kindly forbearance shown toward an offender, an enemy, or other person in one’s power; compassion, pity, or forbearing.”
I know what my sign will say today: Make America Merciful Again.
MAMA. Mama. The children’s anguished cry.
Last Sunday, I lost it when a woman challenged from her car, “How about reuniting the soldiers with their children?”
“Yes,” I said, “bring them home.”
But she yelled back and so did I and it upset some of those standing next to me and I felt bad and guilty and also just kind of felt fuckitall.
Civility has died. It just has. We are on an inexorable march to gleeful cruelty (thank you Jon Stewart for creating that definition). And it’s hard to know just what to do.
Later I wondered about the woman’s story. Maybe she had lost a son or grandson in Afghanistan or Iraq. Maybe she was still grieving for what was taken from her. Were there time enough, and if I hadn’t been so angry over the previous week’s malfeasance by the man who holds the office of president of the United States, maybe I could have had a conversation with her. Shown her some mercy.
But it was hot, I was angry, and feeling hopeless. So, I forgive myself for what I have started calling my unique form of Tourette Syndrome.
When gleeful cruelty is the norm, how do we make our way back to mercy?
I have been depressed this past week. Depression is my least favorite place to be. It’s sometimes called anger turned inward, but I think for me, it’s a friend’s description that nails it: absence of imagination.
I haven’t been able to imagine any future other than one that is being sold by a very sick man. I won’t say his name, but he is the president and he has possession of powers that destroy life. And the thing that could rein him in, the congress and judicial branch, seem enthralled by his power. Instead of reining him in, they are hitching their wagons to his.
The president enjoys making people suffer. It makes him feel powerful.
I’m afraid because I am aware of the inevitable vulnerability my aging bestows on me. Those in power seem blind to vulnerability, or more likely, that they can make themselves invulnerable by denying vulnerability as a fact of life. Life is neither merciful nor cruel. It is simply ruthless. We are all vulnerable to its vagaries.
So I think along the road to mercy we also need to embrace a kind of ruthless commitment to restoring the proper order. I had a new appreciation for ruthless after reading an interview with a Vietnam vet who said he learned more about love and pain from the war than he might have had he not had the experience. Then he returned to the land of the “big PX” where men who hadn’t had that experience were climbing over each other, exhibiting what he called false masculinity, showing neither genuine compassion nor genuine ruthlessness.
We need to make America merciful again.
I’m not going to worry about being civil. I think that ship has sailed. It doesn’t mean not having compassion for those who are so damaged that they are beyond showing mercy. But it does mean calling what they are doing what it is:
I don’t know how to do this. I have both my inner show-no-mercy Celtic warrior (they dangled the heads of their dead enemies from their horses as they rode into battle), and the goddess of mercy. I think I need to call on both of them.
I don’t plan on, nor am I endorsing, beheading anyone. But I do think that fierceness of intent is called for when confronting this army of damaged people on their inexorable march into the darkest places in the human heart.
Compassion comprises two Latin words: to bear and suffering. It means to bear suffering. To be willing to see it, feel the pain of the other, and let it into our hearts so it can transform us, connect us to the other.
We need to hear the anguished cries of the children: “Mama!”
I don’t yet know how, but I do know we have to make America merciful again.