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Songs of Humanity
I don’t know how to hold it all.
I don’t know how to unravel and bear witness and still function as if I’m not a heap of pulled threads on the floor.
I don’t know how to have a day job assisting doctors in hospitals on one screen while watching footage of doctors holding the dead bodies of children killed in the hospital bombings in Gaza on another.
I don’t know how to make ravioli with fresh cracked pepper and sprigs of basil on top for dinner and process my boiling rage over the boiling pot of water.
I don’t know how to prepare for a roadtrip with my son this weekend and not feel paralyzed by the hellscape that has unfolded before our eyes this week.
I don’t know how to have so many words
and to have no words at all.
The sun is just starting to come up over the mountain and light up the desert sky this morning when my 15 year old hears me exhale out loud while staring at my phone over my coffee in the kitchen. He knows I don’t do screens first thing and I can feel him pause.
“What now?” Garrett’s question holds open the chasm between the ask and the answer, where the innocence of not knowing slams into the responsibility of being informed, the space where childhood and adulthood collide.
He doesn’t want to know. But he sees my furrowed brow and still sleepy eyes behind my readers and cannot help but ask. There is a tone in his deep voice that is still just four years old and wanting me to tell him there are no monsters under the bed. There is a barely detectable note in his voice that is still nine years old and wanting me to tell him we’ve landed safely at home and everything is going to be okay. There is a slight crack in his voice that is still thirteen years old, steadying himself for the heavy things we talk about around our dinner table and in the car to/from school and during evening chats before bed, in the cracks between sports and school dances and who broke up with whom and when he’s going to get his driver’s permit.
I don’t know how to hold it all without allowing him to hold little pieces of it with me.
He does not want to hear about death and children and genocide. But he cannot help but ask. He does not want to have to learn about apartheid and war crimes and tax dollars spent on bombs. But I cannot help but teach him of humanity in layers of sediment like canyons carved by rivers winding through histories of stone. He is not four, or nine, or thirteen or even yesterday old. His soft heart does not want to know. And yet, his soft heart is the very part of him that cannot help but ask.
He is quiet when my words catch in my throat.
He is quiet while I try to explain the unthinkable.
I don’t know how to hold it all.
I don’t know how to raise a young man without telling him about the men in Gaza and how gently they touched each other’s faces as they wailed together in grief over the death of their children. I don’t know how to explain the pain of the world to my young man without showing him the beautiful Jewish community protesting in the U.S. Capitol and demanding a cease fire on behalf of their Palestinian neighbors. I don’t know how to feel hope for him in this world, and how to show him that everything is so political because politics is our shared human experience, without putting him in the way of beauty and art and collective joy.
I don’t know how to hold it all if not by resisting the urge to cancel our plans for the weekend and instead believing all the more in rare moments like these. He is skipping school and I’m driving us up to Vegas so he can experience my all-time favorite band in concert in a one-of-its-kind venue during the peak of his young musical awakening so maybe we can understand a little more about each other and a little more about the world. Just the two of us, joshua trees stretching out on either side of the highway, the entire U2 catalog on shuffle, one night in an over-priced hotel and a core memory we will always share. And while I’m prepared for him to leave the concert with a classic underwhelmed teen response of “that was cool”, I know moments like these shape the way our brains see the world and bolster our shared humanity because that is the miracle of art.
I will undoubtedly spend our drive repeating all my U2 stories he’s heard before and I will not care one bit. I will tell him again about stealing his uncle’s Joshua Tree cassette when I was young and poring over the folded lyrics insert understanding for the first time how songs are poems and music is art and how it’s all spiritual and all political. I will tell him again about how I played both sides of that tape over and over in my first car and how it became the first soundtrack to my teenage life. I will tell him again about my first U2 concert in high school and how I couldn’t help standing in that shaking stadium wondering how a concert could feel so much like church and how I couldn’t stop wiping away tears. I will tell him again about the last show I went to in D.C., just down the street from the White House the summer after we moved back to the States in 2018, and how desperately I needed that music to be both spiritual and political. Especially then. Especially there. We will listen to the different versions of PRIDE (In the Name of Love) and I will tell him about how it was never a favorite song of mine until I lived more life and saw more of the world and how the Songs of Surrender version is now my favorite version. I will tell him how much I hope we will hear it live.
I don’t know how to hold it all and to let myself unravel except to get out on an open road, peel my way through the desert under cathedral skies with my kid, and take him to the best church I know surrounded by neon lights and holy songs of humanity.
I don’t know how we hold it all and let ourselves unravel, except by staring directly into the pain and by opening our throats and by harnessing the power of our collective grief, screaming our holy songs of humanity into the sky.
I don’t know how except together.
I don’t know how except on behalf of one another.
I don’t know how we hold it all and let ourselves unravel except by not looking away.