I write this in the early afternoon of this past Friday, looking out the window toward mountains shrouded in summer haze. It’s quiet here, always a blessing, even as the world burns slow in other parts of the country. Sad as it is, I suppose I can use “burns” both literally and figuratively.
Tomorrow morning, my family and I will pack up and trade these mountains for the Carolina coast. My job allows one vacation a year, and I mean to use every bit. It’s always a scramble to get away, part stress and part strain and an overwhelming need to escape, even if some part of you understands that you’ll eventually have to come back again. I can say I always look forward to vacation week. I can say I’m looking forward to this one a little more.
Because I’m tired, you see.
This week has brought news of another shooting, this one at a church in Charleston, claiming nine lives. Aside from the hurt and anger and outrage, I don’t have anything to say. Still trying to process it, I suppose. Still trying to take it all in and turn it over in my heart and my thoughts, still trying to figure out if I should do such a thing or even if such a thing is possible. I don’t know that it is. Some part of my says no, that if I could understand the whys of what would lead such a young man to perpetrate such an evil act, I should then worry much more about myself than about the state of the world. But another part of me begs a yes to that question, at least partway—it may not be possible to understand or healthy to ponder why, but an attempt at both is necessary. Too often, we are confronted by the reality of evil only to turn ourselves away. It scares us (as it should), makes us uncomfortable (as it should), but that’s not the worst that evil inspires. To gaze upon it is to see into a mirror badly bent. It is to behold what we are all capable of, should things come to it, and to know how far we have yet to go. It’s heartrending and soul crushing, and yet the alternative—blaming parents, blaming guns, blaming culture, or ignoring it all together—is much worse.
There was a time not long ago when these reminders would come sporadically, spread out over months or even years. But now they seem to come in a much quicker fashion, don’t they? Maybe it’s the news, now on twenty-four hours a day. Maybe it’s a byproduct of living in an age of constant social media, a heartrending and soul crushing thing in itself. I don’t know. All I do know is what I’ve said—I’m tired.
On my way to work this morning, I stopped at the town BP for gas. A tractor pulled up to the pump beside me, the farmer straddling it already dirty and sweating from the fields. Our talk wound itself around to Charleston. He shook his head, eyes wide and mournful. Said he hadn’t heard a thing about it.
I wondered how that was possible, then stared at that old John Deere. Here was a man with neither time nor inclination for the wider world. Long days outside at the farm, tending to cows and the rising corn, short nights curled in bed, the weather report better told by the winds and the clouds than by some man in a suit coming through a television screen. Of course he hadn’t heard. How would he?
I felt bad, thinking I’d ruined his morning with the news. The way he pulled off told me he took things hard. Church is supposed to be a place of love. Where you’re safe. He probably went home thinking that’s the last time he’s coming to town. Ain’t nothing good away from the farm. Whole world’s going to hell, already halfway there.
They say ignorance is bliss, and they mean that bad. I would agree. Shutting yourself off from the world, refusing to find out what’s going on and to care about it, is a lot of what’s behind the problems we face. But I still think about that old farmer on his tractor, tending to his work as the world flies past unseen and unknown. I think about long walks on an empty beach and tides that carry your troubles away. And I think maybe that’s what we all need right now, if only for a little while.