How Long?

News of the terrorist attacks in Paris hit our house yesterday — a house already weary after weeks of processing the racial tensions flaring up on campuses across the country (including our own, Middlebury.) It felt like we’d been hooked up to a steady drip of pain.

Too often, life feels like being hooked up to a steady drip of pain.

The thing about having lived four decades is that, when news breaks, it takes me back in time; I remember.

I remember being in New York City when the planes hit the towers: hearing the news from the headmistress of the school where I was teaching, who pulled me out of class to deliver the still-hazy details and instruct me to keep my students calm. I remember the terrifying days that followed, when we all walked around with broken hearts, smelling the burning towers, seeing posters of the missing, looking for someplace — anyplace — where we could donate blood. So maybe I understand a little about how helpless it feels to be in Paris today.

I remember being at college — a liberal arts college much like Middlebury. I had, and still have, friends of color. I don’t remember anybody talking about racial tension on campus. I thought it was wonderful that so many people from so many backgrounds could live together in peace, exchanging ideas, on one campus. I thought we were all privileged to be there. But when I hear about the discomfort experienced by students of color on campuses today from our “honorary-Gong-Girl-for-a-year,” who is working on the front lines at Middlebury, I wonder if maybe I’m remembering wrong; maybe I thought wrong.

I feel powerless in the face of things like terrorism and racism.

But when I consider how to respond, I keep returning to this advice, given to the Israelite exiles in Babylon thousands of years ago:

“Build houses and make yourselves at home.

“Put in gardens and eat what grows in that country.

“Marry and have children. Encourage your children to marry and have children so that you’ll thrive in that country and not waste away.

“Make yourselves at home there and work for the country’s welfare.

“Pray for Babylon’s well-being. If things go well for Babylon, things will go well for you.”

(Jeremiah 29:5-7)

If you wish, substitute “the world” for “Babylon.”

Because aren’t we all exiles here, really? Who among us feels comfortably at home in this broken world?

We are all strangers here.

But I can’t think of a more subversive act, a better way to beat back the darkness, than to make ourselves at home. To plant gardens. To form loving relationships and to nurture children. And, above all, to work and pray for the good of this place in which we find ourselves.

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