I was at work in my hospital today when my colleague texted me about the Navy Yard shootings. My first reaction was a kind of sick weariness. “Oh, this again?” I think. Followed by “What is wrong with us?” There have been so many public atrocities these past few years, so many people choosing to take their own pain out on strangers.
In one of the email newsletters I subscribe to, a pastor suggested that we all pray. Pray for the victims and family members and coworkers and first responders, of course, but he also reminded us to pray for the perpetrators of the act. This is something we are commanded (well, those of us who are Christians) to do – to pray for, bless and love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us. The pastor observed that what fuels a murderous spree like what happened today is hopelessness, and that hopelessness is something we should respond to with prayer and compassion.
I suspect that mass murders are more complicated than that, to be honest, but after thinking about it I do agree that hopelessness is probably a big part of it. I don’t know, but I suspect that a person has to be at a point of not believing that there is anything good in the world or anything worth living for before they can decide to shoot or bomb dozens of other people. That is a terrible place to be. I’ve written before about hope as a choice and perhaps a duty we all have – to keep faith with the world, our communities, our own lives by choosing to believe that things can improve and that our efforts can make a difference.
I see hope in the world. I see it in the faces of my friends, who come from different countries and different religions and different backgrounds but who are all willing to come together in fellowship at my home, just for the joy in each other’s company. I see hope in the bins of recycling that my neighbors put out that are sometimes more than the trash we put out the same day. I see hope in the patients I care for, some of whom have already survived atrocities and who keep showing up in their lives, offering love to others and creating beauty. I see hope in the homeless man I met last week, who told me he had just been released from prison and who was putting his life back together again. I see hope in pastors who remind us to pray when we'd rather fight.
Most of all, I see hope in my beautiful daughter and her friends. Most of her friends at this age are the children of my friends, and I see these small people learning to share and to love each other and to show kindness. I see the friendships I treasure and the relationships my friends and I nurture together growing now into a new generation, like a beautiful tree. I see hope in my parents, and my husbands parents and our grandparents as they lavish love on another generation and I know that tree has strong and deep roots.
In the end, I think hope is perhaps the best response I can make to an act of evil. Hope isn’t just wishful thinking. Hope is trusting that when I choose compassion and kindness it makes a difference. Hope is remembering to treat each person I see as someone who is precious, someone who matters and deserves respect and consideration. Hope is the belief that our choices can create a world in which my work in a place of healing won’t be interrupted by news of terror and destruction.