Some of the most important words I learned in 2016 were these from Aaron Burr, former VPOTUS, and assassin of Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton:
"I should have known the world was wide enough for you and I."
As the world has fallen on opposite sides of nearly everything all the time... CONFLICT has become the central reality of our mediated existence. But must it be so? Are we so familiar with offense and our shrunken, flattened, "hot and crowded" world, that we fail to see the wide open spaces? Could we see the world that God sees? A wide world? An enough world. I hope you enjoy, read and share.
Introduction from July 8, 2016:
I slept late this morning, through my wife's alarm, through the sound of kids waking and asking to have their bums wiped. Hard sleep. When I finally broke to the morning, my wife stopped by the bed and gave me a firm embrace.
"I just wanted to do that because everything in the world is so wrong."
I wept a little. For at least the 15th time this week. I wept because she was right and I wept because she was wrong. Right in that so much had gone wrong, but wrong in the since that there was still space--I hoped--for so much to go right. For posterity's sake, let's recount the week (not that it will be easy to forget):
Tuesday night: A black man selling illegal CDs outside a store in New Orleans is detained by white police. Instead of handcuffing him, they shoot him dead on the spot.
Wednesday night: A black man is pulled over in St. Paul for a busted tail light. He reaches for his wallet. The white officer shoots as his girlfriend records the events on her phone as her only (slim) hope for justice. He dies in a pool of blood.
Thursday night: Peaceful crowds gather in Dallas to protest the seemingly endless loss of African-American life at the hands of law enforcement. Local police calmly interact within the crowd to successfully maintain a peaceful demonstration. A lone black shooter fires into the crowd assassinating 5 white police officers.
"Everything in the world is so wrong."
I don't write these words to ignite a political debate. I certainly have my feelings on topics such as guns, systemic racism and the like, but those debates are for different places and for different times. It is likely true, as so many have said, that these kinds of things have been going on as long as there has been an America, we just now have the iPhones to see it. But as much as it is likely true, it is also only partially true.
THE WORLD IS WIDE ENOUGH
Today, unlike any other day in our history, I believe, we have made a decision as a culture, as a people, in this time and place that we cannot stand each other.
We cannot stand with..
We cannot stand for...
We cannot stand beside...
We cannot stand up for...
We cannot stand among...
Perhaps it's over-population or economic decline or income disparity or global warming or race baiting or outsourcing. But I think its something a little bit more coercive, less-easily named, something which seeps into the air, a subtle poison, scentless and invisible, slowly killing us as we kill each other.
The poison is this belief, with all it's labels: we cannot all live here together. It is the subtle and incisive view that people like you are a threat to people like me and that people like you and me ought not to have to stand each other. Stand with. Stand for. Stand beside. I shouldn't have to see you. Think about you. Consider your needs or your point of view.
You are a:
Flag Waving Queer
White Coastal Elite
Backwards White Trash
Lazy Entitled Millennial
Whoever you are, we have labels for you and we hold on to our labels so we don't have to know your names. If it comes to it, we have guns so that we can wipe your labels off the friggin' map.
It is we versus you.
Them versus us.
The violence in our hearts--the subtle disdain for those who don't dress like us, drive like us, worship like us, talk like us, look like us, have sex like us, pray like us--is so now universally accepted, that it is no longer a question of if you have enemies, it's a simply a question of which ones.
Well, I don't know what to do about all this and I have very little to offer except my tears, my anger, my disbelief and my slim hope that a better world is possible if we try. But in the midst of all of this impotence I will offer the one thing I have to you--whomever you are out there:
The world is not too small for you. For you and I. I don't need to push you out of existence with my words, my power, my privilege, my sniper rifle, my armed guards. There is open land out there for you and I. We can live here. Your voice can sound and mine will not be silenced. Your arms can reach and mine will not be strapped. Your joy can rise and mine will not be contained. For me to live does not require you to die and we can be together, you and I. I may disagree with you on so many things, you who may stand for my greatest fear, my deepest discontent. But that will not keep me from looking you in the eye and saying, "Live on." Stand near me, by me, up to me, against me, for me, with me.
Because the world is wide enough. Wide enough for you and I.
They can keep all their labels.
We will choose to know each others names.
And the world will be wide enough.
WIDE ENOUGH. There is room.
For you and I.
The phrase "The World Is Wide Enough" first makes its published appearance in Tristam Shandy by Laurence Strerne, first published in 1759. It is used by a character, Uncle Joe, whose gentleness doesn't allow him to harm a fly. After reading Tristam Shandy, legendary villain Aaron Burr who assassinated Alexander Hamilton in a duel, quotes Sterne in his journal in reference to his most infamous act, "I should have known the world was wide enough for Hamilton and I." The phrase has since risen to infamy because of it's heartbreaking usage by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda's in his record-breaking musical, Hamilton. The perfection of its use for such a time as this cannot be attributed to me. Like all great truths, it echoes through the pages of literary time.