How to be Present to Pain that is Miles Away
Charlottesville, VA is roughly 160 miles from Baltimore, MD- my home until just a few weeks ago. If I had still been living in Baltimore, I’m fairly certain that yesterday I would have piled into a car with a handful of my local clergy colleagues and driven to Charlottesville to join the counter protestors standing up for love, justice and grace in the face of hate, terror and fear. But in reality I was 5,000 miles from Charlottesville in my new home on Maui. Having lived through protests and witnessed violence on the streets first hand, I know that geographical distance does lessen the felt impact of these events. How can it not? Our experience is from a distance and this can have several effects, one of which can be making us feel like we have no way to be present with those on the ground. Social media has its ways of transcending space and time that make us feel more connected and help keep us informed of what is going on in places were are not. But virtual reality and relationships, with all their meaning and benefits, cannot and will not take the place of embodied reality and face-to-face relationships. When we know our friends or our loved ones are in a physical location in the path of danger, our heart is with those people and that place even more. We are all connected. Forgetting this is what allows people to take to the streets with hate in their hearts and violence boiling in their blood. On the other side of the world, I find myself wondering what on earth I could possibly do to provide some kind of meaningful response to the chaos and fear erupting in my homeland, in my country, in the place of my birth where I no longer reside. And this is nothing new—what boiled over Saturday has been simmering for months, years, decades, centuries. None of this is new and yet, at the same time, the present moment demands our attention because looking away is one reason we have come to this place. So how do we respond, particularly those of us who are witnessing this unfolding through our screens? Perhaps we can focus on being present in these ways: 1.) Reach out to those people who are or were physically present in Charlottesville. Express to them your prayers, solidarity, support and gratitude, particularly if they literally stood up for what’s right when you were not able to. 2.) Make an effort to engage people where you are physically located and take the risk of calling out racism and hate whenever and wherever you see it. Silence is complicity. 3.) Take time to breathe deeply and center yourself each time you start to feel anxious, fearful, even angry. Intentionally release those feelings and begin to cultivate love, gratitude and peace within yourself. Then take those feelings of love and mentally, energetically, consciously send them toward Charlottesville. Send them toward each place in the world that is broken because of hate and fear. I truly believe that the energy and prayers that we put out into the universe have power to affect the world around us. They certainly affect the world within us.