The man on the radio, who happened to be Senator Dan Coats of Indiana, said we are in “a proliferation of crises” like he has never seen before.
A passenger plane shot from the sky, makeshift morgues, the Ukraine on fire, allegations of children used as rocket shields, terrorists carving an ever wider and bloodier path through Iraq and thousands of children kept like dogs in a kennel on our southern border—a senator may call it a proliferation of crises, but to my eyes it looks like hell on earth.
We had a houseguest this week. As I put fresh sheets back on the bed and hung fluffy white towels fresh from the dryer in the bathroom, I enjoyed a moment of satisfaction. Order. Cleanliness.
A news picture showed a family fleeing, two adult sons, their mother walking behind, and one of the sons struggling to carry their frail and elderly father. Only the clothes on their back.
Me and my fluffy white towels.
Three of the little grands were in the backyard this week, playing in big old galvanized tubs filled with water. Dipping and pouring, yelling and laughing, waving the hose and soaked to the skin.
An image from the Mideast showed an anguished father cradling his wounded daughter in his arms, his white T-shirt soaked with grime, sweat and blood.
Where is the water to wash them?
The drone of a lawnmower in the distance is a reminder of simple routines. Hummingbirds dart in and out of the geraniums; we work, we eat, we sleep and look forward to an open house and a birthday party this weekend. Trying to reconcile the ease with the anguish is nearly debilitating.
C.S. Lewis addressed Oxford University students at the commencement of World War II as to whether learning was appropriate during time of war. The greater question, and why many beyond Oxford were listening, was how do we pursue ordinary lives while the lives and liberties of others hang in the balance?
Listeners may have expected a nuanced and comforting reply from the scholar and writer, but instead Lewis was jarring. He told the audience that we always live against a backdrop of death; we are always on the path to heaven or hell—terror simply awakens us to the fact. This veteran of the trenches of World War I said even the times we think are normal aren’t really. On closer inspection they, too, are pockmarked by disaster, emergencies and catastrophes.
We can’t put life, education, vocation, even daily routines on hold because disaster looms elsewhere and there are injustices that have not been set right. We forge ahead, building culture, pursuing knowledge and beauty, but ever mindful of the backdrop.
It’s not unlike an E.B. White quote that sits framed on my desk: “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”
Lewis contended that theologians of the past would have considered the reminder of death a blessing, an opportunity to put your house in order—and not just the towels.