I, like billions, am finding difficult to breathe this morning as I read of the deaths of innocent souls in Pakistan – a country that, though has never been my home, is a profound piece of my heritage.
The collective chest-caving anguish accompanying the aftermath of yet another horrific slaughter of school children. Of 132 Children. The wringing of hands as we contemplate how many wells of humanity have been poisoned and wonder, with unfortunate legitimacy, whether it is even possible to give our children a planet worthy of them. On the scroll of our newsfeed, blood on faces so recognizably innocent that we see our own children staring at us through their eyes. And, indeed, they all are, and were, Our Children – the biology of suffering rendering them so. For a moment, we find an iota of artificial relief as we rationalize that “but for the grace of God…” but no, this moment isn’t about the lesson We will learn. This moment isn’t about the gratitude We have. This moment does not exist so that We can co-opt Their pain to squeeze our own offspring a little bit tighter. And yet we will indulge these things in another global wake. These are rituals of recent creation.
And then there are rituals of time immemorial. Personal. And Insignificant until they are no longer requisite. The waking of a child for breakfast. The tending to of a scraped knee. The consoling of your child as they suffer through the comical pains of adolescence. The celebration of moments when you and those you parent laugh at the same joke for the exact same reason. The sudden unexpected sigh you exhale when, just for a moment, you see in your child the grown up they will become. These are our rituals by natural right. And sometimes, they are taken away.
There are places in the world, some of current interest, where economy manifests itself in a shared bedroom, where parents and children sleep within the same walls. Perhaps tonight, a Mother will wake up and reach for the space that once cradled her flesh and blood. She will, for a moment, think the disappearance a fleeting nightmare. She will, for a moment, find comfort in the deception of darkness. She will, for a moment, think that all is well. As it always has been. And perhaps, a Father will search for hands that once helped him. That were designed to carry on his work, and his dreams, beyond his own time. In a fleeting unguarded moment – as he looks for his glasses, or needs a cup of water, or has some wisdom to impart – he will mistakenly call out a name that no one responds to anymore. These are rituals of recent creation.
And then there are rituals of religion. Of, perhaps, standing and facing the same center of the world. Of prostrating. Of touching our foreheads to the ground. There is little distinguishable between the tens and thousands and hundreds and millions who do so. There are people who go through the same motions I do. And utter the same Arabic that I do. And, perhaps, look like I do. And yet, despite all that is visibly apparent, they pray to a god different than Mine. An artificial divinity rendered of evil. Of self-congratulating piety. Of horrific violence.
You co-opt the cloak of my religion to legitimize yours as you plunder all that is good. You have forsaken reason in the service of terror, you have traded in compassion for the rape and murder of humanity. These are your rituals, not mine. You, perhaps, missed the implied significance of bowing down to a large black cube in global concentric circles – the absence of which would result in finding that we millions are all bowing to one another. That we should be humbled by, and value, the humanity of others. That our shoulders touch because we are meant to be family.
But who are we kidding? This is not about the violation of a shared faith. It is that you have no faith – in anything of value. Your victims are your victims not because of what they believe, but because of what they don’t believe.
I do not weep because you took the lives of people who prayed to the same God as I. I weep because you took lives that were created from the same Source as I. And you. And all. I weep because you exist while others have ceased to. At your hands. I weep because that is my ritual. And it is of recent creation.
And then there are rituals of Show. Of governments and ministers and presidents. Of standing behind lecterns and ‘condemnation’ and proclamations that their hearts are with those who have suffered loss – whose happiness they were indifferent to. And of TV pundits and commentators – who will demand that we acknowledge our connection to the perpetrators rather than the victims. Who will demand we condemn, condemn, condemn. And we will find distraction in their puppet theatre.
But there is Emptiness to come – the absence of tiny fingers that would once lace larger ones. There is Sorrow to be suffered – the unnatural placement of vessels of souls in burial shrouds before their time.
There is anger to be voiced. There are fists to be raised. There are screams to be screamed.
But there are also rituals of time immemorial. Of community. Of caring. Of consoling. Of brotherhood and sisterhood. Of family.
There is love to be shared. I hope. That there is still love to be shared.