Wednesday, July 24, 2013

"Anesthesia of the Heart"

Every day in the ten minutes it takes to walk from the metro to my building, I see at least twenty homeless people.  Men, women, children. They are hungry; hot; dehydrated; dirty; poorly clothed. Sometimes I give them change; sometimes if I have food to spare I'll leave it; most times I can only leave a smile and nod.

So let me be honest. I start to get numb. When you see them everyday, it's so easy to walk past them without even noticing.  Human beings fade into the scenery and it seems normal. 

I look around in the twilight zone and buses are zooming by, people are walking briskly like robots, everyone is screaming over traffic on their cell phones, crying kids are being dragged down the street, bikers are ringing bells, construction workers are drilling...and everyone is afraid to make eye contact...with anyone else.

In the chaos, sometimes I just stop and look. 

This might sound strange, but it's painful. 

When I look at other people, I see joy, but mostly I just see suffering. Real, tangible, difficult suffering. It just feels so heavy and I can never wrap my head around it. It seems like no one cares. Most of the time, I don't even care. We're too tired. It's not our concern. We're just trying to get by.

Then it's hard for me to grasp how God can love so many people; how He loves us all the same no matter what we do or who we are. I spend hours thinking about it but I'll never understand.

Things I fail to understand amaze me; they're the only things worth living for and the only things that can really make me mad.

On one hand, God's unconditional love for us is perfect. It feels like home. It's literally heaven.

On the other hand, in my weakness, as if we can compare ourselves to Him, I'm so frustrated by all the ways we fail to love...all the conditions I put on my love, even when I'm dying not to. Sometimes trying to care for people feels like climbing Mount Everest barefoot. Why is it so hard to do?

This brings me to two places. 

A, a dear friend sent me a homily Pope Francis gave that affirmed I - and the many of you I'm sure  have similar notions that trouble you- are not alone in our concern for humanity's depart from union with each other.

And B, another dear friend gave me a gem the other day I'd like to share that I think goes hand in hand with this topic. I was complaining about something or other being hard and she replied, "What is easy?"

Pope Francis visited an Italian island called Lampedusa earlier this month to say a memorial mass for the African immigrants who died trying to reach Europe. The full link to his homily is here. In it he said:

"The culture of well-being, that makes us think of ourselves, that makes us insensitive to the cries of others, that makes us live in soap bubbles, that are beautiful but are nothing, are illusions of futility, of the transient, that brings indifference to others, that brings even the globalization of indifference."

Globalization of indifference. Yikes. I've never been able to put my finger on it, but that rings a bell. He goes on:

"We ask forgiveness for the indifference towards so many brothers and sisters, we ask forgiveness for those who are pleased with themselves, who are closed in on their own well-being in a way that leads to the anesthesia of the heart."

That last part really got me, and reminded me of my friend's advice. She asked me what was easy. 

It's easy to anesthetize our hearts. 

In fact, it's the normal reaction to fear. Maybe if we don't feel as much, it won't hurt as much when something painful happens. Like when a loved one dies; or the person you love doesn't love you back; or you have to confront the real presence of evil in the world and the swings it will take at your faith.

But life is not a procedure we need anesthesia to pull through.

Life is this stunning, messy, unpredictable precious gift; and our hearts can weather many storms.

The numbness used to comfort me.  If you're still in that place, I promise you, it will pass. If you ask, He will lead you out of any darkness. And if you're kicking and screaming, trust me, He is patient. He will awaken your soul gently and you will feel the blood run through your veins with joy again.

"The easy path is not worth walking." I saw that engraved on an antique wedding ring a few weeks ago. (Which is awesome.)

It's funny. Lately is the first time I've considered "the easy path" is not just a cop-out, it's a burden. It doesn't even pull its own weight. You don't break even. 

A numb heart does not pull its own weight. I would rather bleed out every last drop, loving with all my heart, than retreat to its shallow beating. I have never regretted feeling too much; only when I stopped myself from feeling at all.

I want to take the hard path. Every day. In all ways. Because we can. We can help each other do it. 

Difficulty is real. Every person struggles with different things- that's what makes it beautiful and worth it. 
For me, it is hard to maintain kindness to others; hard to keep applying for other jobs; hard to eat healthy and exercise; hard to keep hope in my dreams when they seem so far; hard to pray...the hardest to trust God.

But difficulty is not an excuse, it's the gift of motivation. 

Let's keep fighting for friendships  Let's keep protecting our families and holding them close. Let's keep doing our parts to build an American culture worth dying for.

Most of the time we won't be moving mountains. I have to remind myself, since I am not God, I can not love everyone at all times. So start with yourself. Start with the person in front of you. That homeless man on the street; your chatty neighbor; your unruly co-worker; your tired spouse; the new girl in class.

May God call us out of ourselves and keep our hearts awake. 
May He protect us from this plague of indifference.

(And as a tiny favor, may He take some of my personal maddening jealousy for all the pilgrims at World Youth Day in Rio. Honestly, I can't even talk about it. First born child watch out, your name will probably be Francis.)