Looking for the Helpers

loveneverfailsIt’s been a week since Orlando. It’s been a year since Charleston. Anniversaries of tragedies can resurface all the feelings of shock, anger, and grief that we initially felt. The grief of public tragedies lately has been overwhelming for me. Through the combination of clinical depression, a deep sense of empathy, and a vivid imagination, I get stuck imagining myself over and over in the place of the victims when I hear the horror stories in the news. I had to stop listening for a while. But still again and again my mind returns to the Pulse nightclub a week ago, and Mother Emanuel AME church a year ago. The only thing that makes it bearable for me is to do what Fred Rogers said his mother taught him to do when he saw horrible things on the news: “Look for the helpers.”  Continue reading “Looking for the Helpers”

Two Freds (and me)

Fred_Phelps_on_his_pulpit

mister-rogers

They both showed up several times in my newsfeed today. Both Caucasian American men and both pastors named Fred, but otherwise they seemed complete opposites. Today was the birthday of Fred McFeely Rogers, a Presbyterian minister who passed away in 2003. His real congregation was the millions of children (including the one I was thirty years or so ago) who knew him through public television simply as their neighbor Mister Rogers. And today saw the death, after a long decline, of Fred Phelps, the pastor of Westboro Baptist Church, famous for picketing funerals and other events with signs proclaiming God’s hatred for some people. The juxtaposition was jarring. I thought about the two Freds all day, and couldn’t help wondering if they will meet in the afterlife. What would they say to one another? What does each of them know now about God that he got wrong while here on earth? (None of us gets it completely right, I’m sure, not even Mister Rogers.) Continue reading “Two Freds (and me)”

Spoken in a Touch

ashcross

A touch can speak beyond words. Many times in the hospital, a patient or family member will grab my hand and hold on so tightly that I know it isn’t really me they’re holding on to in that moment. A spinal cord injury patient who was paralyzed from the neck down always insisted that I hold his hand while I prayed with him, and I wondered why, when he couldn’t even feel it. During some visits, when there is nothing to be said, I will place my hand on someone’s shoulder, or rub calming circles on his back as he is bent with weeping. Sometimes this is still scary to me, and my touch is tentative, uncertain of the recipient’s response. A few times I have felt the person stiffen, or shrug away my hand, and I immediately retract it. But most of the time, the touch is welcomed for what it is — a means of connection. Continue reading “Spoken in a Touch”