The Great Sin of Forgetting

Feeling safe, angry, and guilty all at once.

Carlos Gonzalez/Star Tribune

Good morning. The world is burning.

But I wouldn’t know it, looking out my window. It’s sunny and green and quiet in this sleepy little neighborhood. Despite what my laptop screen reads, I can just look up a few inches and see a beautiful day. I can flip to a new tab and see that I have yet another email from The Odyssey even though I have unsubscribed and marked it as spam untold times. But if I turn on my phone, I find that this is not a normal morning – not at all – and the world is indeed burning, at least until I get a routine text from Festival Foods telling me about BOGO Palermo’s Screamin’ Sicilian or Loaded Pan Pizza valid thru 6/2 (!). I don’t buy frozen pizza but idk that sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

I’m reminded of the scene in Game of Thrones where Catelyn Stark looks out from a high window of Riverrun with her uncle Ser Brynden “Blackfish” Tully.

“A person could almost be forgiven,” says Cat, “for forgetting we’re at war.”

Brynden replies that he takes comfort in the knowledge that, “Even in war’s darkest days, in most places in the world absolutely nothing is happening.”

Catelyn is right (which doesn’t happen very often). It’s a beautiful day out. My neighbor just walked out into the yard with two friendly doggos. I’m listening to the dulcet tones of Frédéric Chopin. My world isn’t burning.

The Blackfish is, as usual, also right. Someone else’s world might be burning, but I don’t know, man; not much is going on here. I mean, the local bars are opening back up, so that’s something.

Ah, but, she says almost forgiven. And, ah, the comfort is indeed for the ones in the war, not the majority of people doing a bunch of nothing.

And so I turn my eyes back to the flames, and people are pissed.

Our very own Joffrey Baratheon, our very own “vicious idiot,” is out here advocating for the National Guard to shoot civilians (“When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” at 12:53 a.m….sounds like he might need some milk of the poppy).

Oh, the police also arrested a black reporter on live television, which seems like a bad idea.

Apparently there is “other evidence” suggesting nothing criminal happened in the killing of George Floyd.

And, of course, the usual suspects are out here with the usual talking points about looting and rioting.

My heart is racing. I’m sweating. And I have that pain in my chest that I get from time to time. I could look out the window – even better, I could get up and go outside. I could leave it behind and let it go. I’ve been feeling this pain for about five years now from my comfortable little pockets of the world. Does this really affect me? Is it worth getting worked up about? Plenty of other people are going about their day oblivious to the flames on someone else’s house.

My Facebook timeline looks very different than it did when they killed Freddie Gray and Baltimore boiled over. I’m in no way seeking an “Atta boy,” but there seemed to be so few others in my milieu expressing anger and sadness on social media. We were still trying to explain to people why it’s okay to say “Black Lives Matter.” But over the years my timeline – still overwhelmingly white – has become (to use an obsolete term) much more woke. Now, my Facebook is saturated with posts expressing anger and demanding justice and lasting reforms.

But, come on. We could all just log off and go back to our worlds where nothing is happening. We’re not going to go to Minneapolis and protest. There’s only so much money we can donate. What good is an email to a representative going to do? Nothing may be happening here, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have my own problems. We can just set aside the virtue signalling and check out what’s on Netflix or go make a sandwich or get out our AR-15 and militia cosplay and storm a state capital or whatever.

I see in my awakened timeline reflections of my own feelings of pain and helplessness engendered by my guilty whiteness. It sometimes feels like there’s really nothing I can do. The day after the news broke about the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, I went for my usual run without thinking once about my safety, but I did think about Maud. And I hated that it felt like all I could do was think about him. When I lived in Corvallis, a white supremacist put up a Participation Trophy Flag in their window across from the Black student cultural center, and when I ran past it in the early morning darkness I made sure to flip it off, which is some next-level white slacktivism. Sometimes as a white person living where nothing is happening, little gestures and many thoughts seem like all you can do.

All you can do? Why, that’s actually rather reductive. It’s not much, but it’s not nothing. And it’s the first step towards something.

If you really think there’s no relationship between what happens out there and what you think and feel inside, then you’re missing something. If you’re not willing or not able to at least engage your heart and mind with what happens, then you won’t ever speak, and you won’t ever do. And this matters because, no matter what it looks like outside your window, we’re all connected by something like the roots of the Banyan Grove Tree in Avatar: The Last Airbender, all living within the Tao, all image bearers of God. And the mystical oneness of all things is made much more immediate by modern technology’s capacity to deliver ourselves to one another in an instant. I have friends and family who live as close as the very street where George Floyd was killed, and I see their posts on social media. Any space between here and there is an illusion.

Thoughts and feelings, no matter how painful, are not the ultimate goal, but they are part of a mission of societal size and a fight of revolutionary scale that involves all of us. And so we should call our representatives. We should give money. We should listen and learn. We who have privileges should use them for good. We who are not the oppressed must become selfless allies. We must not feel like there is nothing we can do, but we must also not feel like what little we do is nothing or not worth doing. Be angry. Be hurt. Add your voice to your social media space from the comfort of your home. Feel guilty. Feel the pain in your chest. This is part of being human, of being part of something greater than yourself. Doing nothing is not an option. Even a small stone dropped in the pond makes ripples. In the midst of so much evil, it is good and right to be uncomfortable.

And, if you need to stress eat a frozen pizza, well, have I got a deal for you.

Forth now, and fear no darkness.

Soli Deo Gloria

-Peter

2 thoughts on “The Great Sin of Forgetting

  1. Pingback: Looking Back at Notable Characters with a Conspicuous Disability | eloquent mumbler

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