“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” – Frederick Buechner
Last night, as I crawled into bed, I turned on the television. I had been planning to watch a DVR’d episode of The Daily Show, but instead I happened to catch an episode of Point of View on PBS, the default setting from my kids’ morning cartoons. The show focused on Janet Mino, a passionate teacher who has taught a group of inner city teens on the autism spectrum for the past four years and is desperately fighting to get them the resources that they need and to keep them from “aging out” of the system.
Within just a few minutes of watching the show, I was shaking with sadness, anger and frustration. How can we live in a world so unjust that these innocent children and their families are dealing not just with mental and learning disabilities, but poverty and health problems, as well? How can we live in a world so inhumane that, as a society, we collectively turn our backs on those among us who need our help the most?
It surpasses any ordinary expectations of fairness and justice; it is simply more than anyone should be expected to handle.
And, at the same time, how can we live in a world so beautiful that a woman like Janet Mino, who undoubtedly has her own needs and challenges, is dedicating her life to improving the lives of these autistic children in one of the nation’s most poverty-stricken communities? How can we live in a world so amazing that there are people so selfless and compassionate that they dedicate themselves not just to a cause, but to the people served by the cause?
It surpasses any ordinary expectations of compassion and generosity; it is simply more than anyone could expect to be given.
Upon hearing stories like Janet Mino’s, it is hard not to feel a full range of human emotions. Frustration with a flawed system. Anger at a random and cruel world. Compassion for families dealing with unimaginable hardships. Respect and admiration for Helpers who strive to lighten the load.
And it’s hard not to feel inadequate and useless at the same time.
As I watched, I did the only thing that I could do at the time – I prayed. I prayed for Janet Mino and her colleagues at Robert F. Kennedy High School. I prayed for her students, who are trying against all odds to grow up into independent, confident adults. I prayed for their caregivers, that they get the help that they need. And I prayed that I might be stronger, less fearful and more selfless.
Because, really, what is “prayer” if not an intentional expression of our deepest desires and longing? Isn’t “prayer” just an intentional way of expressing our internal hopes and needs, along with a desperate plea for help, so that we might ACT on those hopes and needs in an external way?
The world can be a cruel place sometimes, handing out more hardships and challenges than we think we can handle and threatening to break us. Sometimes it can feel like we are in a rigged poker game, with no rhyme or reason to the hand we are dealt. I don’t believe that there is a cosmic force conspiring against us, nor do I think that there is some vengeful deity seeking punishment and retribution. That’s just not the God that I believe in. Sometimes bad things happen to good people – with cause or explanation.
But as ugly and brutal as the world can be sometimes, it is also filled with unimaginable beauty and resilience. People surprise us with their compassion and forgiveness, with their mercy and strength. Sometimes we even surprise ourselves with our own veracity of spirit and capacity to love.
So I am trying to put those intentional expressions and desperate pleas, those “prayers” as some might call them, into practice. In my own small and quiet ways. In my own feeble and weary ways. In my own slight and never-enough ways.
Because, ultimately, I believe that things can change, clumsily and slowly. Because I believe that there are no small acts of kindness. Because I believe that we all have a light within us, and because I believe that we can see that spark in others if we just look closely enough.
Because, ultimately, I believe that the world is far more beautiful than cruel – as long as we try to make it so in any way that we possibly can.