We have builders with us at the moment. They’re not particularly noisy, apart from sudden bouts of drilling or a random couple of bangs coming from somewhere unexpected. There’s the underlying radio and chat, of course. It all makes for a general sense of collective noise and activity, not excruciatingly loud, but enough to require constant resistance. So I’ve come to our parish church where the end of the altar and a couple of extra cushions on a chair, along with a jumper and a rug, make for a perfect working environment.
Needless to say, there’s someone mowing the lawn, but that should soon stop I tell myself. So do I wait for it to stop before I start thinking about Afghanistan, about Evia, about climate change and about the lockdown misery being endured by those living through a Southern hemisphere winter right now? Or do I just allow the weight of what is going on in all of our minds, in regard to any or all of these things to compete with the lawn mower noise, hoping, for once, that a vital sense of connection will re-assert its presence.
I say, for once, because, like many people, I look forward to not thinking about the women and girls in Afghanistan right now, the terrified people clinging to a departing American plane, the evil that the Taliban represents on so many fronts, the fact that the West does not understand that tribal society, its politics, or its people. As a result, the weight of our ignorance and of our stupidity in regard to how we have acted there, now translates into what looks like a callous disregard for anything or anyone who is not our problem.
This being said, it is just as hard to understand why our governments seem to be failing to make connections between the problem that is the Taliban, a cruel and massively powerful drug cartel, and the problem that is heroin and its derivatives for our own society. So history repeats itself in a nuanced way.
Once again, we appear to be thinking and acting in the same disconnected way that we did when we bombed the Viet Cong. Bombing would keep things reasonably under control, it was thought, until something better came along, whatever that was going to be, even if we destroyed villages and innocent civilians along the way. Viet Nam was an open-ended holding situation with no real plan B. That is about as far as I can go with comparisons, and in giving shape to the moral crisis we are now in in regard to Afghanistan, given my own ignorance. The problem is that I don’t trust the powerful in the West to be a great deal more knowledgeable than I am about these things.
All of this is meant to provide a background to what many of us in the West are probably thinking and feeling right now. What should we do? What should we say? We know so little and yet we experience a great heaviness of soul for the Afghan people, especially for the women and girls. That is when depression kicks in, making itself feel more significant than anything else, threatening to take us over so that all our emotional faculties are exhausted by trying to stay on the right side of the brink, and by guilt, telling ourselves we have no reason to feel this way when others are enduring such terrors.
But we do have a reason. In fact stoicism and denial are as out of place in regard to depression as they are to the crises that surround us. So none of this is to suggest that we should cease to take whatever medication we have been prescribed. In fact, it’s important to make sure that these are up to date and working effectively. When depression is properly managed it becomes possible to stay tuned to the reality of what we’re feeling and see it as an extension of what Afghan women and girls are enduring right now. Our depression is suddenly revealed to us as having meaning and purpose. Their suffering becomes ours if we will let it.
So now, as we stay tuned to Afghanistan, we begin to see our own feelings in regard to the suffering of others begin to take shape. We can sense them acquiring meaning and worth. There is a connection. All human suffering is of a piece. Everything is held or contained in the moment, provided we own that possibility by allowing our own depression or particular grief to be mobilised in this way. When we do this it becomes a lament for those whose pain we are carrying right now. To lament it is not to feel sorry for people, still less for ourselves. It is to take the sum total of suffering, of the weight we all bear, into the heart of God, a God who yearns for us to allow him to make it his own.