THERE ARE THINGS WE DON’T KNOW.
There Are Things We Don’t Know.
It’s Saturday. I’m home and I’m bone-tired and road-weary. By nature, I’m not a late sleeper, yet this morning I slept until the sun was decently high in the sky, streaming in my window to awaken me to a quiet house. Nine a.m. Unheard of for me.
I planned it all yesterday, though. Rest. Read. Quiet. Write if I have something to say. These are all the things I’ve missed over the last few months, when there were suddenly countless other things regarding my little green book that had to be seen to.
But today I’m being still. Within my reach is a new book I plan to start reading. It’s historical fiction, my favorite genre.
The last book I read was This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger. It’s set in 1932 in Minnesota and it’s the story of a couple of orphaned brothers who are sent to live in a school primarily used to re-educate Native American children in the ways of white America. The children were often forcibly removed from their parents with cruelty. It is Mark Twain-like, except with more heartbreak and resilience woven all through it, as a little boy searches for home.
I never knew these schools existed. I never knew Native American children were suddenly jerked from good families where they were loved, simply because their ways were considered different and wrong.
I never knew it.
I also never knew the ravages of the Dust Bowl, though many of my farming ancestors lived through it. I never knew how it turned hardworking people into refugees in their own country––our America––as they fled their farms in the South Plains for a better life in California. They were all called Okies no matter where they came from and were treated inhumanely to the point of starvation and even death. It ran concurrently with the Great Depression. I was on a long road trip when I listened to the story of it in the audiobook The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah.
I can’t imagine it.
These books have taught me things I didn’t know.
There is so much I don’t know.
Last week, out of the blue, I got a text from a friend who has worked as a flight attendant all her adult life. Her name is Connie. She messaged our tight group of high school friends as she sat in an airport in Washington, D.C. She’d been called to work an evacuee flight back to the United States the next day. At the time she had no idea who her passengers would be.
Then came this message three days later.
“Just finished working a United Airlines CRAF flight (Civil Reserve Air Fleet) and I’m almost home. Very rewarding, exhausting, and emotional. If you lay your head in peace tonight in a comfy bed, be thankful. We are so blessed to live in the USA.”
There is so much we don’t know.
But when desperation comes near, as it did for my friend Connie on that flight, all of the sudden we see a side of things we’ve never seen before. We see people up close and understand that there is no their life and our life, but there is simply life and we do it all together as humankind. When we are close enough to breathe the same air––when we are close enough for our hearts to break for the suffering we see in each other’s eyes, we soften toward situations we can’t possibly understand. I believe the human heart wasn’t created simply to beat. I believe it was created to break, too. For other people. The heart has a dual purpose.
Sometimes, we think we know things about things, but we’re actually just looking through a filter someone else has projected onto stories–stories they aren’t actually living. We let them tell us a story that fits a certain narrative. However, when we see with our very own eyes, we see what is true. And we decide things for ourselves based on firsthand knowledge. Many times, I have changed my mind about something I thought I’d settled on because I sat down close to a desperation I’d never personally known. And I began to see another side.
When I think about the lost, homeless and estranged people my friend tended to on that flight, I remember the books I mentioned earlier. Stories of resilience, intestinal fortitude, and faith despite horrendous circumstances. My friend saw this up close on that airplane.
The reminder that we’ve been here before, even in our own country–with wounded and weary refugees in the midst of government upheaval–is somehow strangely hopeful. Because despite everything, we are still here. And there is still joy to be had. And there are stories that will be redeemed just around the bend.
We are made of good stuff, you and I and every human. Strong stuff. I don’t claim to know how it works or how it rises from way down inside us at just the right time, I just know it has. And it does. And it will again.
My favorite quote from The Four Winds is “Courage is fear ignored”.
May we be brave in every situation that requires it. May we ignore fear. And when we are fortunate enough to be tucked safely into lives that are peaceful, requiring almost no day-to-day bravery at all, maybe we can soften our hearts to the point of breaking for the good human beings whose lives we have never lived and cannot understand––those who are trying to ignore fear and find a way to simply keep living–to simply keep their hearts beating.
History teaches us that on a dime, the story can take a hard left and there we might also be.
Oh Lord, give me a heart that beats and breaks, beats and breaks, beats and breaks…