Friday, November 4, 2016

A New Ash Fallout

      It is no secret that we are in the midst of some pretty historic happenings (and I'm not just talking about the Cubbies!). Commentators on the right and left are all recognizing that the level of divisiveness in the United States is at a level not seen in generations. The two main political parties are threatened both from within and without (and I'm not saying that's a good or bad thing). Small differences in opinion are magnified to a point where families are divided. We've never seen an election where both major candidates are more disliked than liked. Issues aren't being much discussed. In short, it's pretty ugly.
      It's ugly.  And most of us, I suppose, think that Election Day can't come soon enough. We can't wait for our Facebook feeds to calm down and to return to re-posts of comic strips or cat videos or what someone had for dinner. But, as many commentators are wondering, will Election Day bring closure? Or will it just be a semi-colon in a longer sentence that continues the divisiveness?
      Members of groups that have been targeted either by hateful rhetoric or actual violence experience this in ways that many others don't feel. But the overall atmosphere is painful to all of us.  It's somewhat like being down-wind from a volcano: the lava affects those closest, while the ash-fall can stretch much, much, further. 
In the midst of all of this, the question arises (and is sometimes actually asked):  "How are YOU doing?"

       It was in my experience of this "ash fallout" that a wonderful link showed up in my email inbox. It was to an article entitled "Two words that change a life."  The article tells of the author's experience of handing out "You Matter" cards to people she knows, and, in the first instance, to someone she doesn't know.  In that first instance the recipient was someone in the middle of an incredibly difficult time. The small gesture of receiving a card with those two words on it prompted her tearfully to respond: "You have no idea how much this means to me." The author thought about this and started her own campaign, the You Matter Marathon.
       The article hasn't quite moved me to "run" the marathon (yet). On the other hand, in this "ash-fallout", it did make me wonder if there were little ways we could recognize others' distress -- perhaps even those with whom we might disagree? Because, it seems to me, that despite the fact that so many people around us claim to be members of religious communities, one of the fundamental teachings of almost ALL religions seems to be missing-in-action. Few of us are actually treating "the other" as we would want to be treated. In many cases, we're treating them as we think they deserve to be treated . . .  which, of course, is rarely how WE would like to be treated.
      I confess, I'm not immune to this attitude. It's so easy to get caught up in it. And then, I receive "Two words that change a life", and I'm reminded of my better self (or "higher angel" as we sometimes hear these days). And the words from a song made popular by Michael Jackson start running through my mind:
I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself and then make a change*

So, if I ask "How are you doing?", I really want to know. I don't necessarily want to know what you're THINKING about the election cycle, but how you're weathering it, and how I can help. Because "You Matter: more than the election. And maybe I can effect a new ash fallout.


* "Man in the Mirror" by Glen Ballard and Siedah Garret.  Complete lyrics can be found here.

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