Over the past few days I’ve been compelled by the following three perspectives on humanity: three years ago 38,364 people committed suicide in the United States alone. According to a recent report, 20.9 million adults and children have been sold into sexual servitude. And lastly the response of Ted Bundy, a convicted serial killer, who is quoted as being befuddled over the hysteria caused by his crimes. Said Bundy: “I mean, there are so many people”.
I am out for a run. I chose not to bring my music today and thus am more attentive. It is raining, softly; the drops are falling like whispers on the remaining snow banks as I jog by. I pass house with a large tree in the front yard. Something catches my eye from above. Something is hanging on a branch near the top of the tree.
It looks circular and brown. I wonder if it might be a wasp’s nest, or perhaps a birdhouse. But I took off my glasses before my run. So I stand on the side of the road, squinting in a variety of fashions in an attempt to know, understand, to perceive what it is that is hanging from the tree. But I can’t, no matter how I twist my eyes. So I continue jogging and tell myself I will return, someday, with glasses.
Jonathan Steinbeck once asked “I wonder how many people I’ve looked at all my life and never really seen.” I am reminded of the observation from Joseph Stalin that a single death is a tragedy though a million is just a statistic. I am compelled by a million things that I cannot see clearly.
The monks of the middle ages embraced self-flagellation; they tore their flesh to shreds in the hopes of embracing the pain of Christ. They believed that the pain of Christ was the sin of the each individual bearing down upon his shoulders. Today I’m not sure what the pain of Christ is. I have not experienced it.
I read recently of 33 Christians who are to be executed for their propagation of Christian house churches in North Korea. I want to weep. But try as I might, I find it difficult to pray for this number. I cannot see the faces.
Though how I wish I could. How I wish I could feel the nails and the wood splintering into my back as I push up the cross, straining for a breath. How I wish I could feel the humiliation and see the mocking sneers from those below. Oh, how I wish I could know the wasp’s nest from the birdhouse. How I wish that I’d just remembered my glasses.
But I can’t and maybe I shouldn’t. That’s grace, I tell myself. I couldn’t bear it.
Nonetheless, above that grace the cynical truth whispers softly; it’s point still remains: “I mean, there are so many people”.
I recall the American teenager, a suburban child with everything he could want save perhaps an A plus on his latest paper and a girlfriend who would elevate his social status. He was caught cutting himself and when asked for a reason simply responded: “I just wanted to feel something”. The confession of renowned journalist Susan Orlean suddenly becomes understandable to me; “I suppose I do have one unembarassing passion,” she wrote, “I want to know what it feels like to care about something passionately.”
I need to be inundated with the world around me and beyond me, to scrape my hands against something that isn’t white washed. I need to see through the statistics and numbers to the passion of a single life. I return from my run and my knees are aching. They have done this for several years and no matter how long I rest them or stretch there seems to be no cure; they always ache after a run. I find grace in the aching and sometimes passion.
Likewise, I find hope in the monks who flogged themselves to partake in the pain of Christ. Maybe I’m not the only one who feels disconnected. I pray this hope will not fail me; that it will not let me slide into the blurry oblivion of things unseen. I pray for the vision to see clearly, the vision to feel vividly and grace when I cannot bear it.
I pray and I think maybe, then, there is a hope for my squinting form on the side of the road, hope for statistics and those who add to them. Maybe then there’s a hope for me feeling something beyond apathy, a hope for the numbing sensation of hopelessness, for the moments we are all stuck in it.
And I choose to believe in this passion, believe in this hope. Lest I tire of squinting and continue running with the empty promise of returning some other day.