From where I am sitting today, on a hillside above the coast, the ocean appears to be a beacon of peace. Wide, calming, and deep. I could stare at it for hours, marveling at its vast steadfastness, letting its peace wash over my soul.
But as anyone who has spent time sailing the seas can tell you, this would be a false metaphor, an incomplete characterization. The ocean’s waves can wail and batter, churning with discontent and power. Its sandy shores are the pummeled remains of rocks that have not survived its strength. The reality, viewed up close, is a complex force rather than a peaceful vista.
I suspect it is the same for the lucky few astronauts who have viewed our home from a seat in the sky. Our discontents, wars, anger, poverty, fears and boundaries appear invisible under the blue planet’s swirling clouds. The cries of the men and women who were murdered in Orlando on Sunday would not have escaped the atmosphere.
In times such as these, the weight of a churning world can feel too much to bear. The atrocities that surround us are numerous – people are hated and killed for simply loving, weapons of war are held by citizens who aim to kill, and refugees are forced to wait helplessly on foreign shores because they call their God by a different name. Poverty concentrates in communities of color, women can’t walk streets alone, and children live under the reign of terror. These realities tempt my soul to anger, fear, and occasionally hate.
I subscribe to an faith which, I must often remind myself, commands me otherwise, preferring that I align with love and peace, words that seem wholy inadequate at times such as these. Love and peace are weak, an anemic response compared to hate and anger. Love is the Beatles and a brass band playing along during a movie’s opening credits. It is a red heart emoji, a word we use to describe our feelings about pizza and Starbucks frappuccinos. We have watered it down in to meaninglessness.
Peace has met a similar fate, its symbol becoming a piece of preteen jewelry, a t-shirt slogan. It is synonymous with inaction; it is a command from the haves to the have nots whenever they dare to lift their voices. It is not a response suitable enough to stand up to the waves of evil which rock our homes.
If I am forced to chose between hate and anger, and meaningless inaction, I am not sure which is the worse path.
Unless, of course, my initial assessment of the ocean was correct. What if peace was a force, powerful enough to shatter injustice and oppression? It would then require action, rather than a hollow repetition of words and displaying of symbols that have grown meaningless with use that has not been followed by deeds.
I am a writer, and my course of action is to write. I do not doubt that this is little more meaningful than inaction. I am at best a voice shouting into silence, at worse another noise in the clamoring chorus.
I am, however, but one small ripple in the water, one part of an ocean that finds it strength in the multitudes moving together. It is important to be realistic, to understand that it only takes one person to perpetrate an act of hate that destroys scores of lives. If acts of love wish to outweigh evil, they then must be many times more numerous, many times more frequent, many times stronger.
In a few short weeks, we will forget this tragedy just as we have forgotten all others. It is unfortunate but necessary – it would be impossible to hold all suffering at the forefront of our minds at all times. The weight would be too much to bear. It is not too much, however, to let ourselves be changed by it, to let the waves of pain wash over us and leave something behind, which if we allow it, may become even stronger.