Choosing not to look away
I had a nightmare the other day. I was running throughout my house, opening one door after another trying desperately to find my sons. They were crying and I could not find them. They were calling for me, and I could not help them. Their rooms were empty, but I could still hear each of their little voices calling out for me. I ran and ran, opening one door and slamming another. After what seemed like an eternity, I finally woke up breathless.
This past week I was out of town and away from my kids as this nightmare rolled around in my head. I knew they were okay, but I also missed them. I missed their little voices and I longed to give them each a hug and kiss before bed. They are my flesh and blood, they are mine and I am theirs, and I love them with all my heart. And so if they are missing, I will go to the ends of the earth to find them… even in my nightmares.
In transit from one activity to another at my conference, I found myself constantly checking in on what was going on through social media. Like I perceive many of you were, I was struck by one particular image this week. Whether you came across the image intentionally as you scrolled this week’s news or accidentally as you scanned Facebook and Twitter, you probably got the occasion to see it. In fact, by accident is exactly how I came across it the first time…I was scrolling Twitter, and someone I followed had posted the image of a father and child lying in the water. The father’s shirt covering the child, united together in fabric and damp earth. And much like my nightmare, I was caught breathless once again.
Later that same day, I came across the image a few more times as people re-tweeted and re-posted it but it had been at some point censored by social media. Suddenly, I could “choose” to see it or not to see it if I felt it might disturb me. I could suddenly choose to look away. As I scrolled past one fuzzy censored post after another, I also came across a tweet about a news anchor who had said on TV “Like it or not, these are not OUR kids.” So, I continued scrolling with the knowledge that I could choose not to see and that I could choose to breathe in deep knowing these are not my kids.
This Sunday’s readings have something interesting to say about what is and is not ours. In the first reading, Elijah is to call Elisha to succeed him as prophet. Knowing what Elijah wants of him, Elisha says “Please, let me kiss MY father and mother goodbye, and [then] I will follow you.” In the Gospel, Jesus is gathering his companions and as he asks each one to follow Him, their replies echo Elisha’s: “First let me bury MY father” and “First let me say farewell to MY family.” In each of these readings, the individuals being called experience a very human desire to hold fast to their family members. They are nervous to walk away from them. They belong to their families and their families to them and they do not want to let go. And I feel for them, as I could not imagine walking away from my sons.
They are being asked, however, to think larger than the love that flows between them and their flesh and blood. They are being asked to consider that their hearts might be capable of more. Paul reminds the Galatians in the second reading that “the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” You shall love your neighbor as yourself. You shall love your mom, your dad, your brother, your sister, your sons, your daughters… AND the young child and her father. Paul reminds the Galatians and by extension us that our hearts are capable of more.
“Like it our not, these are not our kids.”
I think the Lord would disagree. I think the Lord invites us to be breathless this week.
May we be graced with the understanding that we belong to each other by nature of our humanity. And may we pray for the grace to know what to do with that knowledge while choosing not to look away.