Love, Actually, Is All Around

21 Aug

This has been a disappointing week for humanity: a sad sentencing outcome for Bradley Manning, chemical warfare in Syria, an unimaginably tragic killing in Oklahoma… all of these in addition to the injustice, indignity, and inequity running around the world on a daily basis.  It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the evil we see, to become jaded by the sheer magnitude of need, to fall indifferent to the basic requirement of every human to feel worthy, loved, and welcome. We live side by side with intense suffering and learn to protect ourselves by ignoring the needs of others.

Antoinette Tuff changes all that. If you haven’t heard, she’s the elementary school book keeper who prevented a potentially catastrophic tragedy from taking place when a heavily-armed man entered the school. Much attention has been paid to the outcome of her heroic efforts–but I think the real story is the remarkable compassion and empathy with which she diffused a truly life-or-death situation.

Can you imagine the courage of heart required to share your own life’s struggles with someone who entered your place of business with an AK-47 and 500 rounds of ammunition? The amazing amount of faith required to stay calm and comfort a man who could take your life at any moment? What if–instead of compassion and connectedness–she had responded to Michael Hill’s actions with disdain and dismissal? If, rather than find the spaces in which she and Michael were inextricably bound as humans, she had focused on the boundaries and divisions we create and cling to as suffering-saturated Americans? I am so thankful Antoinette Tuff had the courage to care, and am inspired by her commitment to making sure Michael Hill knew that, through it all, he was not alone in his struggle.

“My pastor has been teaching on how to anchor yourself in the Lord, and so I just sat there and started praying. I realized at that time it was bigger than me, he was really just a hurting young man, so I just started praying for him. And just started talking to him about some of my life stories, and letting him know that it was gonna be okay.”

Marilynne Robinson writes that “the only way to limit the regret we feel for our inadequacy toward one another is consistent … and imaginative respect.” Is there any better example of that “presumptive and attentive” respect than Antoinette Tuff? Listen here to the full audio, starting at about 1:04.  So many of those praised as heroes deflect praise by saying that they did “just what anybody else would do;” what makes Antoinette Tuff so special is that she did exactly the opposite of what almost all of us would do. I can only hope I would be as caring as she was in the face of an AK-47–but I can be sure I bring more of Antoinette Tuff to my family, my neighbors, and my patients. Consistent and imaginative respect–it may be what saves a life.

Not a sermon, just a thought.

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