Dear Lily June,
Right now, the world seems to be a very dark place indeed. If you look at just the largest acts of terror and murder in the Westernized world lately–the Pulse nightclub shooting of 49 members of the LGBT community in Orlando, Florida; the seemingly race-driven killings of individuals in the Black community by police officers and the seemingly retaliatory killings of police officers in Dallas, Texas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana; the driving of a truck into a crowd of innocents in Nice, France that resulted in the deaths of at least 84–you might find yourself, like your mother, largely overwhelmed. And this is nothing compared to the bloodshed and tension that has been unfolding in places throughout the Middle East for centuries.
I sat on our balcony yesterday with your father and asked him, in a pit of depression and despair, what right we had to bring you into a world so dominated by hate, terror, discrimination, cruelty, and violence. I don’t mean to wish away your existence; far from it, my darling dear. In fact, when I went back inside after asking that looming question, I walked straight back into the bedroom where you lay in your crib, and you looked up at me with a smile of such unparalleled sweetness that whatever icicles had been forming in my heart began to trickle away instantly. But I do fear for your safety and your sanity daily in the world ahead, and I fear most that you will come to live in fear, too.
While I’m no classics scholar, I know the myth of Pandora is meant to explain why evil exists in the world, and it goes something like this: Pandora, the first human woman the Gods create, carries a jar (often mistranslated as a box) containing all the evils of humanity within it. One day, she scatters the contents of this jar over the world, releasing plagues and diseases and cruelties innumerable and unmentionable. But the last item at the bottom of the jar, which she is able to seal before it escapes, is Hope.
Better minds than mine have interpreted the myth in a myriad of ways: Some claim that Hope is just another of the cruelties inflicted on mankind–that it is false hope and that it allows humanity to continually torture itself with futilely imagining pain and suffering will one day be conquered. Still others claim that while evils will wreak their havoc on the world, Hope is the balm that keeps humanity sedated from the pain they unleash, allowing man to live without the unbearable, continuous expectation of harm hanging over him.
While it may not be in keeping with traditions or mindsets from the time the myth was created, I offer up another possibility, Lily: that Hope, a blessing, cannot exist without the accompanying pain and despair during which it will be most needed. That Hope is a fragile thing, like a bird with a broken wing whose attempts to fly might kill it. Thus, it is Pandora’s act of preserving Hope in her jar that reminds us of our job in this world: To protect the Hope we have left to us. To watch over and nurture it, nursing it, at times, to the fullest health and strength it can achieve.
Now, my dear daughter, is not the time to be in denial about the darkness plaguing our world, even though I would still preach, at all costs and for all instances, forgiveness. Now, however, is a time where Hope is needed harder, and when we must do what we can not just to debate or dismiss one another, but to listen to the good we still hold within us.
One of the benefits of your mother’s mental illness and her penchant for writing is that, in the combination of the two, it causes me to keep immaculate records, to be a collector of lists, ideas, stories, and concepts. And in looking back over my blogging for the past year, in writing you these letters, I’ve also become a more voracious reader of the words of others. And regularly, across various blogs, I found uplifting stories of the triumphs of human kindness. I want to share with you now this little garden of good I’ve been tending, Lily, because I need Hope to keep me from shrinking against the well walls of despair.
I’ve written about individual acts of kindness before, here and here. Below are some acts other bloggers have discovered in their reading, from what I would classify as small courtesies to enormous sacrifices.
1. Marie Griffith wrote about her father as a “Next One” Thinker, the kind of person who would always change the toilet paper roll or never leave behind a carton of milk with “only enough milk left to soak one cornflake.” While this may feel like micro-kindness, these small behaviors can add up quickly, especially into a great giving mentality.
2. Allie Potts wrote about her husband being gifted by a stranger with a mysterious $20 bill under his windshield wiper. The end of her post contains a great graphic of small acts of kindness that anyone can easily do.
3. The blogger behind Janey Does Blogging found this story of a man in Wichita, Kansas, who, instead of leaving a small tip at a restaurant, left the gift of a new smile for his waiter. (He literally paid to fix his waiter’s teeth, badly damaged by decay.)
4 & 5. Given the current political tensions in America, the blogger LindaLanger6 has written about opening up her home to those in need and the blogger The Happy Traveler regularly “speaks truth to power” and questions what we should do for our fellow members of humanity. They both have written about Elie Wiesel, author of Night and a man who believed it was essential to human hope to keep the memory of the Holocaust’s despair alive in our minds.
6. Patricia, the blogger behind O-pen-u-nated, wrote up this story she’d read about a corrections officer who donated a kidney to a complete stranger.
7. This is my favorite of all, Lily June. While I often vehemently disagree with the conclusions arrived at by the blogger behind More Enigma Than Dogma, if it weren’t for his blog, I might never have arrived at this story from 2011 of Egyptian Christians holding hands in a circle around Muslims, to protect them while they prayed. And I wouldn’t have looked further to find another instance of the same action with the groups reversed in 2013.
As an agnostic, Lily, it’s not the religion behind the last item that moves me; it’s the protection for one group of believers provided by another, not because they agree with one another spiritually, but because the protectors were driven by their dignity and common decency to look out for their earthly brothers and sisters. It cost nothing but time and a willingness to hold hands with one another to provide this protection. The consequences could have been dire: More innocent lives could have been lost. But they weren’t, Lily, and I have to tell you that because of that, I am more than inspired.
Each act referenced above is small, in most instances helping only a signal individual, not changing an entire community or restructuring a broken institution or system. And yet, though it’s a little touchy-feely and a lot manipulated for someone as cynical as me, I need to believe, if only for an hour, that the world can work like the “boomerang of kindness” conceived in this video from 2011:
I need to believe, for you, that the small acts that create Hope in a seemingly hopeless world matter. I need to believe that I can change the toilet paper roll or throw out the empty milk carton to help your father. I need to believe that I can do small acts for strangers when I have the time, the means, and the opportunity–even if the act is as simple as paying a compliment to someone I might not have otherwise acknowledged in the hustle and bustle of daily life.
I need to believe that if I, for some reason, came into money, I would use it to help others who needed it far more than I did. I need to believe that if America shut her doors, I would find a way to open mine to those in need. I need to believe that if something larger were asked of me–even a part of my own body–I might, if it would serve, give it and give it freely. I need to believe that I would stand in the line of fire for someone whose beliefs didn’t even align with my own because we are all a part of the same humanity.
I need to believe that others will believe these things, too: That we aren’t simply degenerating into a cruel and heartless society who picks and chooses who’s most worthy of scorn and ire this week. I earnestly believe the only way to lose a “war on terror” is to stay terrified. I earnestly believe the only way to lose a “war on hate” is to hate those who hate. Be a helper, Lily. Be a forgiver. Be a lover.
I grant you the only gift I have for times like this: my enduring Hope. May it make you feel that you, someday, have some semblance of power to make real change. May it help you remember that it only takes a small stone to send a ripple echoing over the surface of the water.
- By Taymazvalley (h.koppdelaney) – https://www.flickr.com/photos/taymazvalley/3576351590, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34231238
- By F.S. Church. – http://prb.livejournal.com/35233.htmlhttp://www.mitchellteachers.org/WorldHistory/AncientGreece/DiscoveringReferencestoGreekMythology.htm, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17344549