Our Hurting World

by | Jun 5, 2022

“The world is too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love.”
—William Sloane Coffin

Recently a friend asked me if I believed in aliens. I was ready to brush off an answer, roll my eyes and mouth off something I hoped would be witty. My pragmatic self scoffs at the thought of aliens, even as I believed in and loved E.T. I want proof. I want the truth.

But, even saying that I acknowledge that truth is not just facts.

I’ve spent as much of my life questioning my faith as I have practicing my faith. Aliens? Really? But then this friend pressed: “Do you really think we humans are the only intelligent life in the universe?” That’s even more difficult for me to believe. Especially after another mass shooting massacre. Especially after the leak from the US Supreme Court signaling an end to safe and legal abortions. Especially after the conspiracy theories parading as “truth” and “facts,” especially after the proliferation of voter suppression laws.

These days, I often feel that the country I’m living in is an insane asylum where the inmates have taken over the management. I’m reminded that this feeling is not new or unique to some of us in the United States. The Irish poet Yeats expressed similar thoughts in his 1919 poem

The Second Coming
             —by William Butler Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Maybe the disruption of a Second Coming is what we need. Our country is hurting. Our world is hurting. In the US, a small but vocal group of far right extremists appear to control the zeitgeist. Their weapons are hate, fear, and lies that are threatening to destroy our democracy.

Gun violence and the daily deaths by firearms should not be a political issue. Deaths, mass shootings and murder using firearms is growing in the US. That is a truth. In a healthy democracy the political debate would be about the best means of curbing the violence. The debate would center on national policy and laws. But, after every mass shooting, we hear the same refrains about mental health being the problem (yes, our inadequate approach to mental health is a part of the problem, but certainly not the major problem); the repeated lie that “only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun.” There were a lot of “good guys” with guns in Uvalde.

We hear the false accusations that “they” are trying to take away the guns of private citizens and destroy the second amendment. I’m part of that “they” and I respect the second amendment and the rule of law. What I would like to see is a ban on all assault weapons, license requirements for firearms, safety training before anyone could own a gun, stringent background checks and a national “red flag” law. Equally important, I would like to see a change in national attitude toward firearms. There are no quick and easy answers.

This past Sunday morning as I sat in church looking out at the long drive from the road to the parking lot, I saw a car turn into the drive just as the sermon began. Instead of my usual thought that I’m glad to see someone come join us, my first thought was, “I hope that’s not someone with a gun who is going to walk in here and start killing us.” Yes, I turned to look when the door opened and I was relieved to see a familiar face. I don’t want armed guards in church. I don’t want anyone carrying a firearm in church. I don’t want to see anyone carrying a firearm in the grocery store.

But it’s not just the gun violence. I sense a general malaise, a fearfulness, and a growing frustration. Two other incidents this weekend brought these collective attitudes into focus.

Ed and I spent Saturday enjoying the Toe River Arts Studio Tour, visiting artists’ studios in Yancey and Mitchell Counties, talking with the artists, meeting new artists and visiting friends. The tour is always an enjoyable and joyful time, filled with beautiful art work and interesting and stimulating conversations.

We stopped for lunch at our favorite coffee shop that was offering sandwiches and picnic style lunches for the event in addition to the usual coffee, tea, and sweets. We were finishing our lunch at an outside table when I woman neither of us knew walked up and asked how the food was. I told her that it was delicious. She wrinkled her nose and replied, “they didn’t seem to have their act together in there so we were hesitant to order food. We didn’t know if it would be any good.” I was a little taken aback replied that it’s one of my favorite places, that they always have their act together. She then gave me a list of complaints, from coffee service taking too long to no iced tea.

“Where are you from?” I asked when she finally stopped.

“What difference does that make?” she snapped.

“None. You just walked up to our table and started complaining about this shop and I wondered where you are from,” I said.

She told me where she was from, a town north of here, wealthier. I thought, but did not say: entitled. Who am I to judge? I’m a privileged old white woman and I’m beginning to feel my irrelevance to a growing number of younger people. I’m always aware of my own tendency to overact and criticize.

A few weeks ago I let six months of mounting frustrations take over my response to a minor issue. I snapped at someone who was simply doing the best she could and trying to keep diverse groups of people together and focused on common goals. I regretted my words almost immediately. Two days later, I emailed an apology. I have not had a response. Something else I need to let go, approach with love.

At the end of the day Saturday, Ed and I decided to stop at the Mount Mitchell Golf Course Grill and have dinner on the deck looking out on distant mountains. It’s beautiful and calming. Settled into our seats we were looking not just at the mountains and golf course, but at the deck of another adjacent restaurant – one that was not open. A huge flag hung from the deck with the words: “Fuck Biden.” It was a blatant display of hate, arrogance, and yes, entitlement. It turned my stomach and I moved my chair.

After the mass murders in Uvalde, a friend posted her response on Facebook to “do one thing” every day for the next month. Just one thing to be part of the solution. “Give to a cause you believe in,” she wrote. “Write to a representative. Help a homeless vet get a meal. Demonstrate in Texas. Every day in June. Do something. Hold a candle to this darkness.”

Another friend said that as she leaves her bedroom every morning she says aloud, “I’m alive. That’s something.” Indeed it is.

The world is hurting. Our country is hurting. So many of us are hurting. What I need most is not faith, but grace. What I need most to give is grace. How are you living each day?

Hymn for the Hurting
—by Amanda Gorman

Everything hurts,
Our hearts shadowed and strange,
Minds made muddied and mute.
We carry tragedy, terrifying and true.
And yet none of it is new;
We knew it as home,
As horror,
As heritage.
Even our children
Cannot be children,
Cannot be.

Everything hurts.
It’s a hard time to be alive,
And even harder to stay that way.
We’re burdened to live out these days,
While at the same time, blessed to outlive them.

This alarm is how we know
We must be altered —
That we must differ or die,
That we must triumph or try.
Thus while hate cannot be terminated,
It can be transformed
Into a love that lets us live.

May we not just grieve, but give:
May we not just ache, but act;
May our signed right to bear arms
Never blind our sight from shared harm;
May we choose our children over chaos.
May another innocent never be lost.

Maybe everything hurts,
Our hearts shadowed & strange.
But only when everything hurts
May everything change.

This poem was published in the May 27, 2022 New York Times. Ms. Gorman is a poet and the author of “The Hill We Climb,” “Call Us What We Carry” and “Change Sings.”


  1. Edison V Seel

    We are a hurting country, indeed! Beautiful essay and I love the suggestion to do just one thing each day to make your world, your community, your place … better, even if only to smile at a stranger. There are lots of good people out there. Trump lost the popular vote in both elections but this cancer has grown far beyond Trump. We have work to do, so let’s get to it.

    • Marilyn McVicker

      Well said, Ed. Thank you.

    • Pat Riviere-Seel

      Thank you. Your words are so true.

  2. nancy dillingham

    “Something Is Wrong”

    Mornings I wake
    to birdsong
    breathtaking sunrises
    or fresh air after rain

    All the while
    a vague niggling
    in my brain reminds me
    something is wrong

    The warning resounds
    like a gong
    something is wrong
    something is wrong

    From the radio
    NPR intones
    the latest gun violence stats
    that land like a stone

    then as if to atone
    segues to a musical interlude
    But I am not assuaged
    dissuaded or deluded

    Something is wrong
    and I feel life
    as we know it
    slipping away

    forever gone

    • Pat Riviere-Seel

      Nancy, Your powerful poem captures what I was trying to say. Life as we know it is slipping away, making room for something new – hopefully a better way of life, with “liberty and justice for all.”

      • nancy dillingham

        Yes, Pat, I agree–“a better way of life”! Please! Here’s hoping with fingers crossed. 🙂

  3. Bill Griffin

    “Our ancestors were continually surprised, even scandalized, by God’s creative, reconciling love; why shouldn’t we be?” Matthew Myer Boulton
    Lovely Pat, after reading your essay I found myself wrestling with anger, joy, perplexity. While all that ant’s nest of feelings roiled I was also searching for some of Joseph Bathanti’s poems online and serendipity or providence brought me this essay by Matthew Boulton:
    It’s both a tender eulogy for his father and an imaginative and insightful dive into novel theological depths that might just join us all, humans of every ilk, in one all-encompassing circle of God’s love. A gift is prepared ahead of time – I’m thankful for yours and for this.
    Love, Bill

    • Pat Riviere-Seel

      What an amazing, thoughtful, and hopeful essay. I will be re-reading Matthew Myer Boulton’s essay many times. Thank you for this, and for all your many gifts. Love, Pat
      Now I’m off to search for Joseph Bathanti poems. And Walt Whitman’s words.


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