#BlackLivesMatter#ICantBreathe The hashtags float across my Twitter screen; the headlines scream their depressing news, just days apart. With no time to catch a breath from the news in Ferguson, Eric Garner too lost his time to catch a breath.
“I am awake. I can’t sleep. So here I am, writing,” I tweeted in the early hours of Friday, December 5th. The problems of Ferguson, of Eric Garner—and now Cleveland and beyond— are not local problems; they are human problems and concern us all.
I write during what for Christians is the season of Advent, time of waiting for something miraculous to happen. In my memory, all too often, something terrible happens instead in this time of miracle. In 2012, twenty-six children and adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. I was an ocean away on an overnight train, but the far-away event reached me with its tragedy. I’d never been happier to snuggle up close to my daughter as she fell asleep nestled close to me in the tight, confined space of a train’s narrow bunk. She was unaware that I was crying silent tears for the world of guns and tazers in which she’s growing up.
Again I cry silently during this time of hope and expectant waiting. What are we waiting for? For Christians, Advent is about waiting and preparing for the birth of Jesus Christ, for a new birth of hope his birth represents. The winter solstice reminds us that although we are in the darkest time of the year now, soon the light will return, and the Jewish story of Hannukah asks for a miracle that lasts not one day, but eight.
I am not sure that I believe these stories in their literal truth, but every December, the magic of a hoped-for transformation of a world suddenly made more wonderful wakes in my soul. I see the tiny holiday lights shining through the growing darkness, giving beauty to the night. I wait to see beauty in the day as well. My daughter waits with eager anticipation for Santa, and because we are an interfaith family, she lights the eight candles of the menorah as well, remembering another ancient miracle.
Jewish people everywhere have always joined in the fight for a more just world. At the end of Jewish wedding ceremonies, like the one I had, the couple breaks a glass under their feet, shattering smooth perfection into hundreds of broken shards: a reminder that even in a time of personal joy, the world is still in need of tikkun olam, of repairing the world’s brokenness.
As a white woman living in a comfortable suburb, I do not know what to do to help repair the brokenness, other than to write, to speak out. I know I am privileged to look in the faces of my daughters, and not to have to fear (quite so much) for what they will experience as they grow up. They will face different challenges, perhaps, but I know that I have the luxury to not have the same worries that mothers of children of color do when the look at their own loved ones’ faces. I want to raise them in such a way as to help bring more light to this world.
As I think about a broken world in a time of expectation, my mind turns to an old Christmas remix by Simon and Garfunkel, “Silent Night / 7 o’clock News.” The song masterfully juxtaposes the words of “Silent Night” (all is calm, all is bright) with a montage of national news from 1966. The House debated civil rights; comedian Lenny Bruce died of a narcotics overdose; and a march for open housing led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was cancelled. Advent in 1966 found a world as broken as ours today—sleep in heavenly peace.
I find myself envisioning a world transformed, and the hope that maybe, just maybe, this time something else will happen. Our whole society—white and black, rich and poor, and everyone in between — must struggle through and bind up what is broken. A glimmer of hope comes from the remarkable news in South Carolina late last week of a white former cop indicted for the murder in 2011 of an unarmed black man in Eutawville. A glimmer of hope shines through at the winter solstice, when the light begins to once again overtake the dark.
This holiday season, I wait for the return of light. Even if I cannot sleep in heavenly peace, I will hope and work for a world in which there might be more peace on earth, goodwill to all men and women, a world where we all can breathe.