There are so many things that tell us that we are doomed as people.
Mass shootings. Safe spaces. Cancer. Racism from all races. Everybody playing “Gotcha!”
“Gotcha!” is one that gets to me a lot, because it typifies despair paired with an utter lack of genial discourse. It’s nothing but a game of showing someone that they’re wrong without being a part of any solution at all. This is accomplished, shockingly enough, very effectively on Facebook through memes. The biggie lately has been the Syrian refugee crisis. Here are the two that get me (and for fairness, it’s one from each side):
Liberal side: “Hmm, remember how you don’t want Syrian refugees in America as you put up your nativity scene this season, which just happens to be about refugees not being able to find a room at the inn.” Gotcha!
Conservative side: The meme with President Obama on top saying, “We must find homes for 10,000 Syrian refugees,” with the bottom picture of “1 of 50,000 homeless veterans.” Gotcha!
But me? I’m an optimist… even though that’s constantly tested. The better angels of all of us are all around. We just need to open our eyes, and more importantly, our ears. In the last five days alone, three instances really stand out to me.
Sam Coster is a dynamo of a human being. He’s an athlete, a video game designer, and has the most infectious smile I’ve ever seen. His incessantly curious twinkle draws in literally everyone who meets him.
And he just beat cancer.
In the beginning of his journey, Sam’s first PET scan glowed like a satellite photo of New York at night. After high-dose chemo and two stem-cell transplants, Sam had his final PET last Tuesday. His doctor introduced him to his new friend, NED… better known as “No Evidence of Disease.”
Sam’s cancer is gone.
Normally Sam’s story would be the highlight of the week, but there are two others in the running. One comes from the town of Peterborough, Ontario.
After the deadly rampage in Paris, the backlash against the Muslim community all over the world was swift. On Saturday night, just an hour after the Masjid Al-Salaam mosque was packed with revelers celebrating the arrival of a newborn, an arsonist set fire to the building, all but destroying it. It was the town’s only mosque.
The action was widely condemned, and justice was demanded from all sides.
But somewhere in the ashes, a phoenix was re-born in the form of two peoples who, we’ve been led to believe, don’t like or trust each other.
The Peterborough Jewish community reached out to the Muslim community and offered them prayer space in their own facility.
After a bit of initial trepidation, because it’s hard to overcome a millennium of mistrust, the two communities have come together. Not only have members of the Muslim community prayed at the Beth Israel temple, but these two mortal enemies, or so we’ve been led to believe, have actually hosted an interfaith potluck dinner.
Every journey starts with a single step. This one was a biggie.
But the story that stuck out to me the most happened last Sunday at church. The service hadn’t gotten off to the best of starts. Sam and Ben, our 9- and 7-year-olds, had been at each other in the car on the way to mass. They were both forlorn. Neither wanted to sit next to the other, and when it came time for the children’s liturgy, neither of them stood up to go. This was going to be a looooong service.
But after the Monsignor finished the gospel, he told the most remarkable story about hope.
A woman was about to die. She had been in her parish for 50 years, and the priest had come to comfort her in her final hours. She had her last confession, and then proceeded to tell him all that she wanted for her funeral: open casket, a particular dress. It was not really the job of the priest to fulfill these requests, but she was on a roll, so he simply took notes to eventually give to the people who could make these things possible.
“And the last thing I want, Father, is to be buried with a fork in my right hand.”
“And why would you want that?” asked the priest, bewildered.
He was about to get the lesson of a lifetime.
Because over the years, I attended many a potluck at this parish. And every time the people came to take my dinner plate, they would tell me to keep my fork for the dessert. Them telling me to keep my fork was always my favorite part of the dinner, because it always meant that something better was coming. I know that I don’t have long, but I know in my heart that something better is coming. And besides, everyone at the funeral will end up asking, “Why does she have a fork in her hand?”
I’m not naive. I know that there is so much hurt in the world right now. Sometimes, I physically ache thinking of what my children are going to face as they get older. But I also see the better angels in people, and I know we’re capable of so much more.
I also know that there are certain things that are taught and not ingrained: hate, mistrust, prejudice of any kind. I don’t know a single person who has a genuine disdain for another race or another creed who has not been taught that disdain from somewhere else, either a parent, or a mentor, or the peer-pressure of so-called friends, or even whole communities.
The thing that is stronger than any hate is love.
Love is what gave Sam the fuel to fight cancer tooth and nail. He was not finished with love.
An act of love is what broke a thousand years of mistrust in just 24 hours in Peterborough, Ontario.
And love of her maker is what gave that woman hope that something better was yet to come.
Today, Sam’s got a new video game out, and it is AMAZING!
A crowdfunding campaign raised over $110,000 to rebuild the mosque.
And the woman was, indeed, buried with a utensil in her right hand. And true to form, every last one of the mourners asked, “So what’s up with the fork?”