|Damon Winter/ The New York Times- Haiti: the Shattered Year|
I often feel that I have to walk a thin line in my major between callousness and grief.
As an international studies major, my particular focus is ethnic conflict, which means I spend most of my time immersed in accounts of war, genocide, rape, murder, brutality, injustice...I constantly read accounts that bear witness to the depravity of man. I honestly don't think anyone who studies what I do could look you in the eye and say that humans are inherently good. The wrongs occur to easily. Anyone in the right circumstances could be a mass murderer.
But what do I do with this? What do I do with the accounts of injustice upon injustice? The most natural reaction is to take action: I must do something, I must stop this. But so often the crimes are past, the victims are dead, the pain already inflicted. Some say that prosecution is the answer; do the dead really care?
Even if action were possible, it is too much for one person. On any given day at any given hour, horrific acts are occurring across the the globe. According to some sources, approximately 48 rapes occur in the Democratic Republic of Congo every hour. 27 million people are in slavery around the world. Thousands have died in civil conflicts this year from Libya to Syria to Sudan to Uganda and so many more.
And even if I took action, the chances of success, of stopping the atrocities before they start, seem slim. One only needs to read the accounts of the many desperate activists and officials who tried to prevent the Rwandan genocide to understand how even the most fervent warnings of impending disaster often go unheeded.
Grief is another natural reaction. But one cannot grieve for the world. The front pages of the world's major news sources are a constant litany of sorrow. Were I to begin to grieve I fear I would never stop. And grief is so often paralyzing, preventing action. I must move forward if I am to change anything.
My current answer has been to focus my energy towards one case of suffering, to pour all my efforts into Chechnya. I've learned to read over the individual sorrows to look at the big picture, to look to the future, to search for solutions. But in all this it becomes so easy to become callous. The lives destroyed are mere numbers now, statistics that point toward trends towards violence and instability. I shut my eyes to other tragedies. I focus on the dead in Chechnya, not those in the Syrian streets or the Somali countryside.
This week has been one of breaking down that callousness, of confronting the many injustices of the world, of reawakening grief. I love how Nicholas Wolterstorff discusses mourning in his book Lament for a Son. He asks why Jesus gave the beatitude, "Blessed are those who mourn," when mourning and sorrow are usually the last things we celebrate. He writes:
"The mourners are those who have caught a glimpse of God's new day, who ache with all their being for the day's coming, and who break out into tears when confronted with its absence...The mourners are aching visionaries. Such people Jesus blesses..." (85)
Grief is vital. I must grieve for the women in the Congo, for Haiti, for Syria, for the starving in Somalia, the war widows in Chechnya, those trapped in the trafficking industry...I cannot shut my eyes and wall off my heart. I must grieve- not without hope, not in a way that promotes inaction, but in a way that moves me to prayer, to lay my burdens at the feet of Christ who suffered for us. And I must still move forward in action to relieve the suffering of those I can. So I continue to walk the line, in grief and in action, balancing the tender heart that mourns with the focus needed to forge ahead.