It’s No Small Thing to Be Kind: A Response to Dallas, Nice, and Baton Rouge

By Chelsea Rose Odhner

 

I went on vacation for ten days. The Dallas shootings in which five police officers were killed had just happened before we left for four nights of rustic camping with no cell phone reception, let alone internet. I found myself on an errand driving twenty miles to the nearest town after finding that all the salad dressings at the local bait and tackle shop that doubled as a sort of grocery store had expired in early 2015. While on the drive, I scanned through all the channels that had reception and found a static-ridden public radio station. I listened with deep interest to gain any clarity on the situation in Dallas—what was the protest that had been going on? When did the shootings happen? How many people were involved? How was the nation finding its balance amidst such a gut-wrenching series of shootings? I learned that there was one gunman and that he was killed after attempts at negotiation. The shooting happened at the end of what had been a peaceful protest in response to the two police officer-involved shootings of black men that had just occurred over the two days before.

The news also reported of an interfaith prayer service that took place the day after the Dallas shootings. Hearing a clip from the service gave me chills. It is a powerful thing to hear of leaders from diverse faiths coming together in the common intention to overcome hate and strengthen the bonds of love in our communities. I returned to our campsite with a bottle of salad dressing and a little hope that hadn’t yet expired.

Hommage_aux_victimes_de_Nice
Memorial established at the site of the Nice attacks. 23 July 2016. Photo by GrandCelinien.

By the end of our trip, the brutal attack in Nice had happened on Bastille Day, killing 84 people; and the day we returned home, three police officers were assassinated in Baton Rouge. It’s no wonder that in the week since I’ve found myself feeling short with my kids—every loud noise and argument making me seize up and get tense—and in another moment I’m sinking inwardly with a numbed sadness at the sight of my youngest waving an American flag we got at an Independence Day parade, wearing nothing but a diaper, her chest spattered with watercolor paints.

God loves every one of us but cannot directly benefit us; he can benefit us only indirectly through each other. For this reason he inspires us with his love. (True Christianity §457:3)

The truth that catches my fall is this: kindness is a rare and precious commodity. It’s as easy to take kindness for granted as it is to take human life itself for granted. The fact that any of us on the planet developed properly in the womb with little to no mitotic- or gene transcription-related mishaps is miraculous. Any fully formed baby is a huge number of things not going wrong. Likewise, the fact that we have any kindness in a world so saturated with pain is miraculous. When I hear about another shooting that’s occurred, at first I wonder with desperation, Why is this happening? But a question follows that cuts to the core of my heart, revealing a shard of light there, Why is this ever not happening?

When we take kindness for granted, we get confused about the hard work and the huge miracle it is for any gesture of kindness to take shape, within our minds or our interactions. In any personal moment I have, whether in strife with my children or friction with a stranger, to notice the irritation and choose kindness and forgiveness really is on the level of creating human life. It is genuinely life-giving to allow for another day, to give another the benefit of the doubt, to go against the overwhelming ease with which we can think hatefully of each other. The interfaith service didn’t have to happen, but it did.

 

Chelsea Rose Odhner is a freelance writer who contributes regularly to the Swedenborg & Life show on the offTheLeftEye YouTube channel.

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