Too much reality

I need to tell you how I’m feeling today. I should warn you that some of you will not like it. Some of you will think I need to get some perspective. Some of you will tilt your head to the side and lower your eyes. Some of you will get angry. A few may find common ground with me. I will speak with unvarnished truth about how I feel today, and if it angers you … well, maybe you need to get angry.

I will not stay feeling the way I am about to describe forever. At least I don’t think I will. It is where I was yesterday, am today and probably will be for a few more days. And that is the last qualification that I will make. If you are worried for your sensitive eyes or ears, then look away now.

I am boiling with anger. You know, most of you, that over two years ago my friend was murdered by terrorists in Kenya. In the course of doing my job (a church leader), I had to put my own grief on hold; the result of this is a series of symptoms with which I still live, which I’m told add up to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I didn’t think you could get that if you weren’t present, but it turns out you can. I jump out of my skin if someone kicks the dog bowl. A word, a phrase, a weather pattern, a noise, a story can send me spiralling into anxiety and grief. It can not affect me for weeks or months and then it will besiege me until my resources are starved.

Yesterday (Saturday) I was starved. I woke to news of the Paris terror attacks; within an hour my heart and soul were back where I was two years ago, receiving details from inside a besieged shopping centre, comforting a fearful widow-to-be, getting fateful news. Eventually, like many others, I took to social media to both express myself and see if I could find some solace. I found some; I also found people asking why we weren’t grieving also for the many killed in attacks elsewhere – Beirut, for example. And on it went; apparently we who were moved – moved by people slaughtered doing what I like doing, going to rock concerts and football matches – especially by this, don’t care for Arab lives. Apparently we’re over Westernised. Apparently, one person told me, I shouldn’t bring my grief to social media.

The truth is I can’t take it. I have my limits. If I processed all the death and destruction in the world the same way, I would not be able function. I would sit and shake and cry and shout and scream until I couldn’t any longer. Yesterday was almost unbearable at times; I only got going when a 6-year old insisted on a cuddle … now. Today was better because it had to be – I had a job to do.

T S Eliot said that “humankind cannot bear too much reality”. How right he was. I can’t. You can’t either; you who sanctimoniously and self-righteously tell me I should be moved in the same way about everything. You can’t take it. If you felt like I felt yesterday for even an hour you would cease to meaningfully function. Have you tossed and turned overnight, wondering if your friend is safe, or a hostage or lying blood-strewn on a shopping mall floor? Have you been in the room when that phone call has been taken? Have you had to lead people on a journey of forgiving this?

We can’t take it all. We just can’t. We have our limits.

And don’t you dare, don’t you even think of citing Jesus. Even He, faced with the full weight of every moment of suffering, every evil deed, every murder and angry word; even He cried out in fear, asked for another way, sweat blood and asked why God had abandoned Him.

Of course Arab lives matter, the same as French or British or Kenyan or Burundian or Rwandan or Syrian or Lebanese or Palestinian or Israeli. But I can’t take it all, and if you say you can then you’re self-deceiving liar. You need to go to some war zones, some terror attack malls, some grieving families to get some perspective on yourself. Then tell me how much reality I should be able to take.

Paris moves me because I’ve walked its streets. Because I’ve been to more rock concerts than I can count and more football matches than I can remember. I can imagine myself there, in the midst of a carnage I can imagine only too well because of what I know from the inside.

So when you tell me, and people like me, that I must care equally … you do not know what you ask.

For the love of Christ, let us shake, mourn, grieve, cry, grow angry for a while. In time we will return to something resembling equilibrium.

We couldn’t do this every time, because we are human.

And if that’s such a sin, then we’re in more trouble than we know.

11 thoughts on “Too much reality

  1. I completely agree with this- I can’t stand how people are criticising people for showing grief and solidarity with Paris. It really upsets me that people can hijack a tragedy to bolster up their own ideas of misplaced western guilt. And I’m really sorry about your friend.

  2. This is so much how I feel about Paris, Beirut and all of those events, which go unreported. As a former soldier, I dealt with violent death too many times for my own comfort, and the last one of a soldier in Afghanistan, blown up by a left over Russian Land Mine, was perhaps the final straw. Dealing with the aftermath, of a disbelieving family, unable to view the body, a repatriation, funeral and memorial service made my emotional overload go into overdrive, and in the midst of this, somehow, God’s grace came on board and stabilised things, before which, I was a convinced and militant agnostic. It didn’t cure the overload, but helped me to bear it and to work through it. I suddenly realised my own vulnerability, I was unable to stand aside and not become emotionally involved (the wisdom of those who supposedly trained and prepared me for this eventuality, proving worthless). If there was any consolation for me, it was that the family got a seamless service from their Visiting Officer throughout, who than went away a cried and whimpered privately and than with a padre.

    Now, any major event where lives are lost, where lives are ruined, where people are maimed and wounded, leaves me to some extent a wreck. I put on a brave face, because, now in ministry, that is needed – but inside I’m shaking with suppressed anger, disbelief that mans inhumanity to their fellow man just goes on. I scream at God Why, so often now, that I could put it on repeat. But your description of reaching limits resonates with me – I know that I can break (am probably already broken), so have to close my eyes and ears to the noise in the media, the conversations in church, the wild opinions voiced by many and just pray the Jesus Prayer, which somehow gives some relief.

    Prayer and quite time alone is valuable, but so is time with family and friends and most of all in worship, where somehow I am able to put aside those vulnerabilities, surrender them to the Cross and come away with enough spiritual nourishment to last me until the next time. And there will be a next time of that i’m certain.

  3. I’m so sorry – I had not realized about your friend. And having to put it aside as a church leader is v hard. I think the hope of the new creation is the only thing that keeps us going. It is for many Middle Eastern Christians

  4. The shock, the grief , anger, overwhelming sadness are the things which make us human and I’m so sorry how this has affected you and others. This sounds like a platitude, but I only have these words at my disposal. What I feel is something far more intense, akin to a sense of loss for this world, God’s Creation, that feels in tune with the heart of Christ. Perhaps we need to cry more, crying out with righteous anger and with sorrow for all the hurt against God and His world. If anyone meets me and feels like this, don’t hesitate to cry and share tears with me. Love and blessings everyone.

  5. Thank you for posting this. You have made important, valid points in your candour. I do not criticise anyone who grieves over what happened in Paris. However, I am greatly saddened that our media appear to ignore that similar events happen elsewhere in the world.

  6. Thank you for your honesty, Thank you for sharing your pain, Thank you for the way you write, Thank you for being you!

    You inspire me, David Melddrum. Quentin Miller

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