Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Overactively Imagined

Last week, I wholeheartedly advocated for empathy. I pleaded for others to inherit the pain of others, to put themselves in their shoes. My opinion on empathy hasn’t waivered, in fact, in times like these I think empathy is more important than ever.

But I didn’t write about the time in elementary school when I watched this documentary on Pablo Picasso. It had these clips of the Spanish Civil War- bombings, injured civilians. That night I couldn’t sleep, the images of the bombs floating before my eyes. I could imagine the explosions happening outside my room. I could imagine the injured civilians as my friends and family. For weeks, I refused to look at the print of “Guernica,” which hung in the art room (which was particularly bothersome considering I was the student art helper)- until my mother had to call the art teacher and ask her to take it down.

An “overactive imagination” is what my mom called it. It seemed I had an overdose of empathy. I’d imagine myself into scary movies (or more often then not-scary movies that still terrified me). I’d imagine myself into books about people who faced terrible situations. I’d imagine myself in natural disasters, terror attacks, and horrific stories on the news.

My overactive imagination has changed overtime. I can make it through most films without replaying the most frightening parts over in my head before I fall asleep afterwards. Yet, there are still moments where I feel this sort of empathetic anxiety returning, pulling me under.

This weekends attacks were one such moment. I don’t mean to make these attacks about me. Because they certainly are not. The attacks were about populations, LGBT and Latino, which were already vulnerable, already forced to fight for their existence in this country. They were horrifying, overwhelming gruesome. And as I sat in front of the TV watching the details, I thought I was going to throw up. I felt myself sinking into my over active imagination, replaying the events over and over to myself, as if I was there.

The thing is, it’s so easy to stay there. It is easy to stay submerged in grief, in revulsion, in despair- that you can’t escape. It can consume you. It can immobilize you. It can stop you from speaking out, from sharing how these issues are real and affect us all.

So as I paddle to the surface, just as I did last January in Paris, I grasp onto signs of hope. I think of the now iconic acceptance speech that Lin-Manuel Miranda gave at the Tony’s. I think of the thought-provoking letter written by a Florida bishop. I think of Jimmy Fallon’s brilliant openingmonologue last night. I think of those who lined up to give blood. I think of JetBlue flying victims family’s to Orlando for free.

These moments of hope are never enough. They aren’t enough to erase the tragedy, but they are enough to bring us to the surface. They are enough to mobilize us, so that we are not lost in horror, but ready to use that empathy to speak the truths that rest in our hearts.

At the Tony’s on Sunday, the cast of Hamilton performed the song “Yorktown” without the muskets that normally come with it. They changed the lyric “weapon in my hands” to “weapon with my hands”- implying our greatest weapon is not some sort of firearm, but our writing, our thoughts and words and feelings. We change the world in monumental ways by standing up for the things we believe.

So here is candidly, unashamed, my thoughts: I think as people of faith, we need to let the LGBT community know how truly loved and valuable they are. We need to love them fully, without limits or qualifications. I yearn for a change in rhetoric from saying “LGBT people are a dangerous to bathrooms” to saying, LGBT people are safe, welcome, and cherished in every space they inhabit- be it a church, a bathroom, or nightclub.

I believe that if we as Catholic’s we say “life is sacred,” we need to question why the right to bear arms infringes on our brother and sisters right to live. We need should question why assault weapons are so easy to purchase. We need to speak out against the current state of our gun control laws. We need to cultivate policies based on listening deeply, seeing dignity in each person, and fighting for compromise over gridlock.

Most importantly, we need to never let our imagination falter. We must keep imagining a world that is better that it is today. When some say, “That’s not realistic, that will never happen”- we need to push back. We are only limited in the changes that can be made when stop imagining them happening. While our overactive imaginations can be debilitating, it can also be our greatest tool. Let us imagine a future where each member of our society- whether LGBT, Latino, or Muslim- feels valued and cherished. Let us imagine a future where everyone is safe to learn, to laugh, to dance without fear for his or her safety. Let us imagine futures that our more loving than today’s realities. And let our actions, our convictions, and our beliefs love these imagined futures into existence.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Thoughts on Books: One True Loves

Title: One True Loves
Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Page Count: 306 (on my iPad)
Where I Read It: On the lounge chair in my backyard, surrounded by new flowers
Summary: (Adapted from GoodReads)

In her twenties, Emma Blair marries her high school sweetheart, Jesse. They build a life for themselves, far away from the expectations of their parents and the people of their hometown in Massachusetts. They travel the world together, living life to the fullest and seizing every opportunity for adventure.

On their first wedding anniversary, Jesse is on a helicopter over the Pacific when it goes missing. Just like that, Jesse is gone forever.

Emma quits her job and moves home in an effort to put her life back together. Years later, now in her thirties, Emma runs into an old friend, Sam, and finds herself falling in love again. When Emma and Sam get engaged, it feels like Emma’s second chance at happiness.

That is, until Jesse is found. He’s alive, and he’s been trying all these years to come home to her. With a husband and a fiancĂ©, Emma has to now figure out who she is and what she wants, while trying to protect the ones she loves.

Who is her one true love? What does it mean to love truly?

Emma knows she has to listen to her heart. She’s just not sure what it’s saying.

Thoughts on Book:

Sometimes you get stuck in a reading rut, which was what was happening with me and PS I Love You and I realized that I needed something really intriguing and fun to get me out of my rut. This book sounded like the perfect tonic. For the moment I read the summary and some positive reviews online, I knew I had to read it- right away. Then I devoured it in one day.

In my contemporary literature class this past semester, we talked about “coming-of-age” novels where the adults were coming of age. As if the characters grow up, but then grow up again. This book fits into this idea very neatly.

The first fourth of the book is essentially a YA novel. It’s perfect if, like me, you like to dabble in YA once a while. Emma is a high school freshman during the early 2000’s (complete with butterfly hairclips, spaghetti straps, and butterfly tattoos) worried about jeans that fit, concerned with helping her friend Olive figure out her sexuality, arguing with her sister, and struggling to fulfill her parents expectations for her when all she wants to do is travel. So when her long time crush Jesse becomes her boyfriend at the end of high school- it seems as if she’s “come of age.” They move to California together. They find a way to take advantage of college to let them travel the world. They get married and then find jobs that let them travel. It seems at this point that Emma has finally given herself the life that she’s always dreamed about.

So when Jesse “dies,” she must reshape her world and in doing so, she “comes of age” again, realizing that now she wants different things for her life. She realized that her 30-something self doesn’t want the same things that her 20-something self did. This was actually a pretty strange moment for me as a reader, because I realized that I am a lot like her 20-something self- restless and wanderlusty. So it was weird for me to wonder if there will be a point where like Emma, I’ll tire of travel and want to settle down (I did however love that her “settling down” meant running an independent bookshop because that sounds pretty dreamy).

I also loved how well rounded the characters were. Sam is a musician, who wants to work at a bookstore instead of a music store. Jesse is a champion swimmer who wants to do anything but the Olympic trials. Emma’s sister Marie aspires to be a writer, but can’t get anything published, whereas Emma flourishes as a travel writer. The characters are all full of little details that make them real: whether it’s Emma’s dad love for BLT or Sam’s weird obsession with pretentious butter dishes- the little quirks and details make the story breathing.

Maybe my only complaint is that Emma seemed so self-absorbed at some points. Granted, the story is told from Emma’s perspective, so that probably predisposes it that way. However, from the moment Jesse arrives back from “the wild,” Emma seems consumed with who she is going to pick. She never lets herself be happy or relieved that he is home, but always struggling to decide between the two. I wish she had more compassion in those parts- though I always appreciate when authors have characters who are flawed. I suspect that this might be part of it. Eventually, she’ll come to see that it isn’t deciding between two boys, but iterations of herself.

The best part of the book is Reid’s writing style. While the book a rom-com, it’s written with a lyrical style that seems poetic at some points. When dealing with her grief and recovery portion, Emma’s narration switches from 1st to 2nd person, which I loved. It really conveyed the detachment she was striving for, as well as taking the reader through a difficult period of time without dragging it out. There were plenty of beautiful quotes that I highlighted along the way because Reid got things SO RIGHT. So I’ll leave you with my favorite one from the end, “I don’t think true love mean your only love. I think true love means loving truly. Loving purely. Loving wholly” (page 283).

Pair With: The Great Gatsby. I’m probably only saying this because I just finished also rereading The Great Gatsby (should I make a post about it? Probably not?). I was struck by how opposite Gatsby’s ideas of love were- as if there had to be only one true love and we should spend our whole loves trying to recreate it. This book is essentially the opposite notion- our past relationships are valuable, but also something we can move beyond.

Listen Along With:

The Future – Anna Barnett// You Are Mine by Spencer Combs// True Love Will Find You in the End- Richard Walters

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

A Case for Empathy

I am horrified by the news. While there has been no life changing natural disasters or attacks, the last week has brought about stories that are phenomenally unhinging. Last week, a small child was dragged by a gorilla inside an exhibit. Last weekend, a few blocks from me in Detroit, a young boy was abducted and murdered. This week, after being brutally sexually assaulted a woman’s rapist was sentenced to a simple six-month jail sentence. It seems like all around me are these stories that make me so furious that I feel sick. They make my thoughts messy, my words jumbled, as I search for ways to make sense of injustice. 

In honesty, the only thing that has made me angrier has been the reactions I’ve seen on Facebook. Granted, I don’t think I’ve spent as much time lingering online as I have in the past few weeks. As I wait to hear back from summer job applications, I have nothing but time to read the comment wars that I normally ignore on my feed. These conversations have made me lament further about our world as I realize the profound need for compassion.

I'm struggling to have hope amidst such heartbreak news and terrifying reactions

In many of these Facebook posts, it seems like the blame has fallen upon the victims. The mother of the child attacked by the gorilla is “blamed” for being negligent and letting the child walk off. The young boy who was murdered in Detroit’s family was “blamed” for letting him out too late at night.

“He was going to take someone’s cash,” My little sister said, “He wasn’t innocent.”

In the court case for the young woman raped at the Stanford, she was questioned as to what she was wearing, how often she partied, how much she had been drinking. (Never mind the fact that her rapist took her to court in the first place, as if she was to blame for the whole event).

In the wake of seeing the reactions, I was fuming. How could people fail to see that injustice is independent of any action of the victim? How could people want to put the guilt, the fault on the person who was already suffering?

Victim blaming is an easy trap to fall into. If we can point to something, anything the victim did to bring that situation onto themselves, we don’t have to worry about that happening to ourselves. It is easy to say, “I would never let my kid wander off, that would never happen to me.” Or “I would never try to steal something, so that could never happen to me.” Or “I would never wear that. I’d never get that drunk. It’s her own fault. It couldn’t happen to someone like me.” It’s so easy to put the blame on the victim because it lets us detach from it. It cuts off our empathy. It allows our imagination to stop us from being in their place.

Empathy is terrifying. Opening ourselves up to another person’s pain, to let ourselves feel exactly what it might be like to inherit their burdens, to walk in their shoes- it’s scary. Those emotions are scary. That pain is scary.

But as people of faith, this is exactly what we are called to do. We are called to kindness. We are called to fight back against our instincts which allow us to detach from another's pain, but instead to search out ways to better understand them. We are called to look for the humanity in victims, instead of making them a tool to escape empathy. God shaped as all as beautiful, unique humans. Humans that deserve dignity to have their stories told without blaming the atrocities they faced on themselves. No person would choose to attacked by an animal, abducted, murdered, or raped. No person deserves to have their pain taken away from them by inferring that they chose that.

I'm praying for empathy. What about you?

I pray for those who lack empathy, that they discover the importance of taking on another’s pain. I pray they abandon their righteousness in exchange for compassion. I pray they learn that victims deserve dignity, not blame.

I pray for the victims of unspeakable injustice. May God hold them close.