Loud Voices and Little Altars

by becomingbethany

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Loud voices ring out in a crowded stadium of cheering people. The words reverberate with fear and hate and smug entitlement. I cringe from where I sit 2,500 miles away. Is this my country? Are these my people? Red, white, and blue confetti rain down on faces who look like mine but I could not feel more different from. Is this a celebration? It feels more like a trial where we are forced to examine an ugly truth from all angles. It feels like staring at a gaping wound that we do not know how to treat.

In another country, many miles away, loud voices, gun shots, and fighter planes whir in the air. I squint over my cellphone screen to watch the news come in through Twitter and WhatsApp and grainy cellphone video footage. Is this my country? Ugly, violent threats against people I know and love pasted up in public places. Kind, generous school teachers, doctors, professors, and aid workers labeled enemies of the state. The country they have helped to build turned against them. Divorced from society, they can only watch as in one fell swoop, their life’s work is dismantled and destroyed.

I remember a dinner conversation several years ago where my father remarked, “It is so much easier to destroy than to build.” Buildings that took years to erect, can be destroyed in a minute with a bomb. Societies that have taken decades to progress can be dismantled in a few weeks with a few new policies. Relationships that have been growing for a lifetime, can be destroyed in a day by a harsh word or revelation. Creation and building and growth are such a long processes. It seems unfair that un-doing them can be so fast.

My soul is weary of ugliness and destruction. The world feels too violent and harsh. I think about running away. Maybe I can find a nice man and a nice piece of land and raise some children and chickens and green beans and squash. Maybe I can hide away somewhere and just build something – however small – so I do not have to see any more things destroyed. But the still small part of me knows that running away for me would be listening to the fear I find so ugly. And would I be destroyed myself if I allowed fear of pain and destruction to dictate my future?

So I stay and I look for life where I can find it. In the exquisite face of a friend lit up by the dusky summer sunset. In the hands of my sister as she gathers the seaweed pooling around our feet and expertly twists it into a mermaid crown. In the smile and form of a dear one glorying in her youthful beauty. In the way my sea-wet hair is caught and curled and tangled by the wind. I capture these moments with my cellphone to remember these images. These glimpses of beauty and life. To replace the images of destruction that have been filling my screen for too many days.

I am asked to create. Make something from trash and discarded items. I am told it will be worship. All I can do is stare at the mess on the table. Beauty from plastic forks and leftover coffee lids? I am overwhelmed and step back from the table. I look on as those with more vision than I twist sporks into roses and fold chopsticks wrappers into birds in flight. I am humbled and I am awed. They saw something there that I could not. They reached in through the chaos and the discarded and found beauty and order. We are capable of so much destruction but also so much creation.

The cool air meets me as soon as I walk in the door. Releasing me from the oppressive heat of the week and inviting me to exhale and cease struggling – at least for a little while. I am looking for life and relief in an unlikely place – a museum dedicated to the broken. And in the stories of strangers, I find what I am seeking. Making my pilgrimage to these miniature altars, I find strength and encouragement from those who have looked pain and loss and destruction in the face and said, “There is still something here. There is still life here. There is still meaning here. And I will keep living and sharing my life with others.”

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