Warsan Shire, "What They Did Yesterday Afternoon"*
they set my aunt's house on fire
i cried the way women on tv do
folding at the middle
like a five pound note.
i called the boy who used to love me
tried to 'okay' my voice
i said hello
he said warsan, what’s wrong, what’s happened?
i've been praying,
and these are what my prayers look like;
i come from two countries
one is thirsty
the other is on fire
both need water.
later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
where does it hurt?
Anne Lamott on Facebook, July 15
Life has always been this scary here, and we have always been as vulnerable as kittens. Plagues and Visigoths, snakes and schizophrenia; Cain is still killing Abel and nature means that everyone dies. I hate this. It's too horrible for words. When my son was seven and found out that he and I would not die at the exact same second, he said, crying, "If I had known this, I wouldn't have agreed to be born." Don't you feel like that sometime?
My father's mother lost a small child in the 1918 flu pandemic. Someone in the family is having a nervous breakdown. A yoga teacher was shot down the road last year by some druggies, while walking on a foot path. A yoga teacher! And then in recent weeks, Orlando, police shooting innocent people, and innocent police officers being shot, and now Nice.
How on Earth do we respond, when we are stunned and scared and overwhelmed, to the point of almost disbelieving?
I wish there was an 800 number we could call to find out, so I could pass this along to my worried Sunday School kids.But no. Yet in the meantime, I know that we MUST respond We must respond with a show of force equal to the violence and tragedies, with love force. Mercy force. Un-negotiated compassion force. Crazy care-giving to the poor and suffering, including ourselves. Patience with a deeply irritating provocative mother. Two dollar bills to the extremely annoying guy at the intersection who you think maybe could be working, or is going to spend your money on beer. Jesus didn't ask the blind man what he was going to look at after He restored the man's sight. He just gave hope and sight; He just healed.
To whom can you give hope and sight today. What about to me, and disappointing old you? Radical self-care: healthy food, patience and a friendly tone of voice, lotions on the jiggly things, forgiving pants, lots of sunscreen and snacks. Maybe the random magazine.
Do you have your last computer on the shelf, that you really don't have time or effort to take to the after-school program in your town — but you are going to do today? Go flirt with the oldest people at the market — tell them you are glad to see them. Voila: Hope and sight.
Remember the guys in the Bible whose friend was paralyzed, but couldn't get in close to see Jesus preach and heal, so they carried him on a cot, climbed the roof, and lowered him down for the healing? Can a few of you band together- — just for today — and carry someone to the healing? To the zen-do? To a meeting? Help a neighbor who is going under, maybe band together to haul their junk to the dump? Shop for sales for a canned food drive at the local temple or mosque? How about three anonymous good deeds?
There is no healing in pretending this bizarre violent stuff is not going on, and that there is some cute bumper sticker silver lining. (It is fine if you believe this, but for the love of God, PLEASE keep it to yourself. it will just tense us all up.) What is true is that the world has always been this way, people have always been this way, grace always bats last, it just does--and finally, when all is said and done, and the dust settles, which it does, Love is sovereign here.
And now this Sunday morning, Baton Rouge.
The video at the head of the posting is a performance published by Studio for Performing Arts on YouTube on 21 June in response to the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
*Warsan Shire had previously placed the text of this poem on her Tumblr page, with a tweet to share the text, but the text has disappeared from the Tumblr site. If it has been published in some official place (e.g., a magazine or a book of her poems), I am not aware of this — and this is why I am not providing publication data.