The morning after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, I went downstairs to find the kitchen table strangely empty. I’d grown used to seeing the Chicago Tribune scattered by section across the table, my parents taking turns picking through each segment. On this day in April, however, the typically bulky newspaper was quite lean.
Curious, I asked my Mom what had happened to the rest of the newspaper. Though she was probably surprised I had noticed, she answered honestly. She’d already put a few of sections out with the recycling because of the graphic photos documenting the aftermath in Oklahoma City, including the front-page picture of a baby who’d died in the bombing.
Now, over 20 years later, my Mom no longer shields me from consuming the tragedy and horror of current events. Not only do I have access to graphic photos and detailed accounts of terror, but I have so much access. At any moment, I can retrieve the news or visit social media to see personal accounts of cruelty, sexism, racism, or other injustice someone has experienced. There is so much to take in.
Last week, I was browsing social media when I stumbled upon a post regarding the NFL and national anthem debate. I was sickened to see the racial slurs and accusations being hurled at people who shared their opinion on a public post. My heart sank as I backed away from my computer.
I remember a time when social media didn’t exist; if we wanted to argue with and insult another human, we’d have to confront them in person or by phone. I remember when there was no comments section after a news article. If readers had a reaction to a piece that was published, we had to pen a letter and mail it in to the publisher, allowing some critical time for our hot heads to cool down a bit. I remember when logging onto the internet took a number of minutes, busied up our family’s telephone line, and exposed me only to a few chain letter emails forwarded by friends. I remember when the world I was exposed to was more compact and filtered by my Mom.
This week, as I saw more hate, more online conflict, and more graphic photos from another domestic terrorist attack, I found myself yearning for a time when I had less access to the world. I wanted my naiveté and limited knowledge back. I wanted to go back to the days when my world felt tiny, safe, and kind. I wanted to return to the privilege of a childhood protected from the reality of deep-seated racism and graphic photos of children killed by bombs.
In his book, The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis writes:
“If you want to make sure of keeping [your heart] intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”
It was privilege, as a young white girl growing up in a safe, upper-middle class neighborhood, to experience the world the way I did. Today, I could more or less choose to live within that same privilege. I don’t want my heart to be safe from the brokenness, though. I don’t want to live in a tiny, compact world that doesn’t ever digest the terror or injustice of another person.
I don’t want to build a shelter around my heart that leaves me unmoved by the story of another.
This is the more painful way. It’s tiring, horrifying, and tragic, but it expands the world I live in. We’re meant to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15), and I can’t do that if I refuse to know of any happenings—near or far—that are dark and troubling. Knowing the tragic stories enables me to stand with those who are hurting and stand against the destructive beliefs and social structures that perpetuate that hurt.
I remember when life was filtered and felt gentler. While sometimes, in moments of overwhelm, I dream of those days, I know I’d never choose to return to them. If we all settle for naiveté or hardened hearts, there is no chance of a gentler world ever being our reality. The world can feel cruel, but standing in the mess with others, exposed to the brokenness, is where the work of cultivating peace and kindness begins.
Mallory ‘Larsen’ Redmond received her master’s degree in Theology & Culture from The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology. Recently married to her husband, Darren, she is enjoying this new season of life as a wife and writer. She loves dry humor, clean sheets, and gathering around the table with friends. You can follow her writing here, where her stories are told with the hope of further uncovering the places of connection in our humanity.