by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, September 17, 2017
We might call it the “Summer of Displacement” for to displace is to move something from its usual or proper place to another, less familiar location.
On the microcosmic scale, I experienced displacement this summer when a fall that fractured my ankle and sternum also displaced a rib, so that every movement I made reminded me that I was no longer comfortable in my body, my home, in the same way I had once been. And my personal experience seemed a harbinger of the displacement unfolding on a national and global level, and on a previously unimagined scale.
In the United States, we wept over the images: weary, frantic faces in Texas, Florida, and the Gulf Coast as thousands faced the flooding of Hurricane Harvey and the lingering fierceness of Hurricane Irma’s hovering. Frightened faces of hundreds in a hurried evacuation, trying to get ahead of and outrun wildfires on the West coast and in the Northwest.
Those images were replicated on the world stage as our neighbors in the Caribbean woke up to as much as 95% of their world flattened and destroyed. In India and Bangladesh, in Nepal and Pakistan, hundreds left dead and thousands homeless. In Sierra Leone, where mudslides have thousands still missing, Gabriel Fattah Manga, the lone survivor of his entire family who were swept away, spoke for many: “I lost my family. I lost my people. I lost my place.” Streets turned into rivers and forests into piles of ash. Displacement was a universal experience.
It occurs to me that displacement of any kind is accompanied by this subtext: a longing for home, a yearning to return to the familiar and the routine, to find comfort in the seemingly ordinary around which our daily lives once revolved.
In “Sending the Great Blue Heron,” a chapter in Longing for the Endless Immensity, I wrote about the multi-layered loss that comes in the wake of displacement: the shattering of notions of safety and security; the deep knowing that one’s ability to protect children and family is uncertain; the reality of impermanence; the loss of connection and belonging; the returning to a landscape—both inner and outer–forever altered by wind and water, by fire and fear.
The questions that face all people whose lives have been upended are not unlike those voiced by refugees, by the masses desperately seeking sanctuary from war, regional conflict, natural disasters, and extreme hunger and poverty:
Where to place our hope?
How to be in the face of what has been taken from us?
What to do with the dreams of a future that seems unrecoverable?
How to move forward so that healing can take place? Or can it?
Where to find God in the midst of such profound human pain?
I hold no answers to these questions, which I’ve been mining and revisiting most especially throughout the summer months. Instead, I offer another worldview, one that captivated many of us. Recall how, in the midst of so much suffering, we also witnessed our beautiful, yet wounded world opening its heart in welcome, in acts of profound compassion and courage. How we also witnessed images of accompaniment, affirming that God is present in human history, even in its most tragic episodes. How we saw:
- Strangers coming together at great personal risk to form a human chain and pull drowning persons from submerged cars;
- Neighbors grabbing anything that would float to ferry the most fragile and vulnerable across once passable streets that had turned into raging rapids;
- Volunteers enfolding exhausted evacuees into a reassuring embrace;
- Refugees shivering and wrapped in blankets and hearing words of welcome and consolation in a language they did not speak but for which they needed no translation;
- Crowds gathered in formal or spontaneous prayer for both loved ones and for strangers who were in harm’s way.
On the other side of terror and anguish, on the other side of unimaginable loss and inconsolable grief, we saw the kind of tender companioning that can come only from a human spirit cultivating spaciousness of heart. Only from those deeply practiced in making room for the other, just as the Holy One unceasingly does for us.
Sit quietly and revisit images or experiences that moved you recently.
Where were you inspired?
Where was your heart called to a deeper compassion and empathy?
How might these images call you to act in the days ahead?
Spend some time sending your compassion and healing energy out to those most in need of it at this moment.
Thank you for your prayerful support of all who were part of the retreat day for the Ignatian Volunteer Corps, September 9, in Scranton, PA.
Please now remember in prayer an ongoing formation day for the Daughters of Our Lady of Mercy I’ll be leading September 23 in Newfield, NJ. Thank you!
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