The pelican papers

A big bird’s eye view

Love at times like this

Posted by Ron George on June 14, 2016

Orlando_vigil_160614We hear a lot about love at times like this.

We hear other things as well – political posturing, the blame game, all the usual self-serving, defensive moves of interests with positions to maintain.

We’re dealing with pain, though, and it ought not to surprise us – all of us – that amid our gut feelings, swirling through dimensions of grief with which we’re all too familiar,  love in the form of empathy brings lumps to our throats and tears to our eyes. We know instinctively, it seems, that this complex human feeling is the only thing, finally, that will heal us – individually, as a community, as a nation.

So, what does this love look like?

For one thing, it glows like a candle in the dark. It’s a simple thing to see, but it contains our hopes, our fears, our grief and our values. We seldom remember words spoken in the dark, but we never forget the light and the darkness and the feeling of being there and being with a community in pain.

It’s the being-with that counts the most. Those of us who live while others have died need desperately to know that we are not alone; moreover, at times like this, perhaps we ought to reach out for those who do feel outcast and alone so they do not fall into despair, which truly is a sickness unto death and, I would submit, which lies amid the roots of much that ails our society.

Orlando_anguish_160614A friend writes on Facebook: “Today’s the day to stand in solidarity with my community.”

Yes, indeed, my dear friend, with scores of lives taken and scores more wounded in Orlando by a murderous bigot, it is a day to stand not just with the gay community but as members of it. Today and every day, American patriotism demands that we count ourselves as members of a community brutally attacked.

We are a nation under fire, a community of communities diminished by the loss of any and every member of any and every community anywhere. Love is our bond. Love is our balm. Love is our hope – but what does it look like, and where do we go from here?

We long for love to be effective; but to be effective, love must cover a multitude of our shortcomings.

Christian scripture commends love, but one need not be Christian or religious to embrace whatever truth is contained in the observation that love is patient, kind and boundless, that it does not insist on its own way and isn’t arrogant, boastful or rude; all of which comes under the heading of good behavior. But then, there’s more: love your enemies, which is a perfect kind of love; and more – the still greater love of giving one’s life for one’s friends.

I’m sure there are other takes on love from many religious and secular traditions. Compassion is a significant category under the large umbrella that is love, and I’m sure it inspires our imaginations to ponder what compassion looks like. What’s surprising, though, at least at times like this, is how just beyond reach compassion seems to be when everyone – everyone – knows that only love will heal a broken world.

If love is truly patient, then, let it be at times like this that we take our time passing through the cyclical phases of grief for our sisters and brothers who just this week lay dead on the blood-slick floors of Orlando’s Pulse nightclub. There will be anger, denial and depression aplenty as we sort it all out through numerous news cycles to come. We love each other through these forests by being-with, holding, listening and expressing our fearful and fearsome rage even as we do no harm – to ourselves or our enemies.

Orlando_candlelighting_160614If love is truly kind, then perhaps the words we speak to those with whom we disagree – not our enemies, by the way, but our fellow citizens – be honest but not inflammatory and quick to judge. Am I able to see, truly, where the other guy is coming from, a person with whom I profoundly disagree, who may be a friend or a family member – or the most obnoxious human being I’ve ever met? Not if I arrogantly and rudely insist on my own way.

Finally, what does love of my enemy look like? It looks like Nelson Mandela, who had far more reason to hate than I ever will have, but who emerged from almost three decades of unjust imprisonment to advocate, precisely, a national policy of forgiveness and reconciliation. He was not especially religious, but certainly possessed an inner core of human spirituality that chose to love not seek revenge.

It looks like Mohandas K. Gandhi, who led a nonviolent revolution against an oppressive British regime and then paid with his life at the hands of a religious extremist. It looks like Martin Luther King Jr., whose nonviolent crusade against racial injustice in the United States led to his death by an assassin’s bullet.

Love, then, if it truly casts out fear, is the foundation of all courage. Love is a call to be gentle and kind, but it is also a call to be defiant, if need be, not only to be-with but to stand with members of our community of communities who suffer persecution, oppression and discrimination and to resist the tyranny of violence that often accompanies such crimes against humanity.

Loving our enemies doesn’t mean surrender; it means enduring their hate while offering forgiveness and reconciliation. Love stands for the good, the true and the beautiful in all humanity while rejecting that which is evil and false – especially deadly violence. Love requires resilience rooted in self-knowledge and hopeful confidence – even as we gather in the dark, by candlelight, to affirm that we are indispensable to one another, especially at times like this.


One Response to “Love at times like this”

  1. Ralph Willis said

    I’m right with you Ron all the way up until the last paragraph. It’s not that I disagree with it, I’m just not sure who you are referring to as the enemy. If you mean the LBGT community you lose me. I can’t imagine anyone hating them for their sexual orientation unless they themselves are truly evil or mentally ill. Not counting, of course, the evil teaching/action of the terriosts.

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