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.