Terra Firma

18 July, 2016


There is a man who walks around my neighborhood every day, the grandfather of two children who go to school with my kids. He is stout, balding, with curly white hair and a little dog who looks like he is dancing on his tip toes as they move, a contrast in big and solid vs. tiny and nimble.

He recognizes my car now, the one that I use to chauffeur four kids to lacrosse and baseball and skiing. And every time we pass, he gives a wave, a thrust of his arm that is part salut, part friendly greeting. Something about the way he does this is so encouraging. So life-affirming. It reveals some inner strength or hope that he possesses. He seems happy to see us. When he passed in the street while my kids are playing in the yard, he tells them the dog’s name. “Reee-chhhard” he says in a thick Russian accent. The dogs name is Richard. So we shout, ‘Hi Richard!’ when we pass them.

The other day when I was running, and they walked toward me. I stopped. “The dog is Richard, but what what is your name?” I asked.

“Vitale” he answers. A good name, one that sounds like “Veee-tah-ly” when he says it. Then he walks away with his wave, the one that makes me so happy.

It think it makes me happy because Vitale’s wave is one small sign of goodness that makes up our days, and more and more, as world events and doctors appointments and relationships hold so much uncertainty, I am holding fast to these small gestures. These small pebbles of community that, when we zoom the lens out, start to make something that resembles goodness.

What I want – what my heart and my head want – is to stand on solid ground that feels like concrete. For the bad news that keeps popping up on my phone to stop long enough to enjoy a summer afternoon, to be able to enjoy a retreat with out the re-entry to life being so heavy with grief. For my son’s NF-1 to just have smooth sailing instead of tests and questions and more tests and vague news that could be bad or it could be fine, only time will tell. For the world around me to dispense justice easily and readily, instead of painfully, slowly and insufficiently. For relationships to always bring out the best in each other. I want to stand on terra firma.  I want Heaven to just be here already.

But people are broken. They make horrible, heartbreaking mistakes that hurt others unspeakably. And though people rightly feel angry about events, I can’t help but think that if our response to events divide us further, then the hate is winning. If our response is to judge others, love is losing. And when all we can see are the wounds, we miss the goodness getting in through the cracks. Around the boulders of hate and violence. I can’t help but see people make small gestures that reveal an innate goodness. Maybe it’s just a wave. Maybe it’s the way strangers smile at my children. These small acts are tiny, but they are helping me.

When all we pay attention to are the headlines and what the news gives us, we miss what’s happening right where we are. We definitely miss the good stuff, because the news doesn’t report that. When we go to church and see the same families week after week, like the family who, when life gave them a special needs child to adopt after having two boys of their own, said yes, even though they have shared that it was hard and scary. Every Sunday news crews could come down and see the brothers dote on their tiny sister with Down Syndrome whose smile lights up the whole church. When a friend’s child faced surgery recently and our community rallied around them, no news cameras were rolling and no journalists covered it.

There is such a goodness in our communities. A faithfulness.

My own faith is strengthened by the faithfulness of others. It is a kind of terra firma all its own.

I am learning that life will not deliver the certainty my head and my heart want. But faith will. The belief in each of us having a goodness that shines out when we look for it. When events happen to make us doubt this, we have to remove the doubt. Remove the anger and revenge and hard-heartedness that can bring us to a level where we become like the thing we hate. We need to keep finding the good and reaching out. Even if the rubble from the last heartbreak, the last sad headline, is blocking our view.

We can pour our worry and sadness towards our community, and find a way to build it up. Lend our faithfulness to each other with one nod, one smile, one wave hello at a time. 

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