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It’s all over the news. Social media, too. People screaming at one another, slapping, beating, threatening, harassing…and for what? For wearing the “wrong” T-shirt. For trying to go swimming at the local pool. For wearing a hijab. For being brown-skinned.

When all we can do is lash out at one another for being “different,” we are in the deepest of deep trouble. If interculturalism teaches us anything, it’s that no two of us are exactly the same. Unless we can deal with that, we are in for one heck of a free-for-all. And nobody is safe.

Forget about beating
swords into ploughshares;
let’s focus on the lightest
of legerdemain, on simple
manipulation of the bones.
Let us turn fists into flattened hands.
Let us bring to each other our brokenness,
our humility. Let us be weak. Mild. Silent.
Let us bow to the God in one another.
And if we cannot, we must lie down at once:
We are already dead.

Things have gotten awfully heavy of late. It feels like we’re all just trying to carry the weight of our crosses; sweating, straining, staring at our own two feet. Meanwhile, people are buckling all around us. They are dropping to their knees. They are feeling alone. It cannot end well, for we all need to be loved. And so, I am urging you: Take up an end. If you’ve got your cross balanced and you’re making your way, slowly but surely, help someone else out. Or to drop the metaphor for a moment, tell someone today that you love them. Tell them you forgive them. Tell them you hear them. Because you might be the next to stagger. It can, after all, happen in an instant. Or to take a more nautical theme:

A warning to mariners:
storms crop up quick.
Squalls in the harbor,
thunder out to sea,
fog like a shroud.

If your skiff’s at risk,
signal. Do not attempt
to rescue yourself.
The water is cold.
Depth cannot be calculated
by any standard measure.

If your skiff’s afloat,
please save the sinking.
Bail with a bucket,
or even a thimble.
Make a life jacket
from your own heart.

Continue until all’s clear,
which may be never.
That is all.

“God,” I pray, “Help me not to hate him.” And as if in answer to my petition, a video streaming on Facebook, on Yahoo, all over the web: The president ascending a staircase into a plane, the wind blowing the convoluted nest of his hair all around and revealing — what? The subject of scorn and derision? I didn’t see it that way. I saw a pink egg, a skull as fragile and naked as a baby’s. Something he has gone great lengths to hide…and yet. There it is in all its sad, easily broken glory.

It taught me an important lesson: Even the most blustering of bullies is, at heart, fragile. Breakable. Just another broken person trying to hide his metaphorical cracks in the hopes that no one will notice. We all do it. The cracks are just different for each of us. It would do us well to remember that. Perhaps a little more tenderness toward one another is in order.

In my own hand, I see it
bones so thin and fine I could crack them
in the act of clasping, of joining together.
To strike would be to obliterate them outright.
We are all hands — though some are fists —
and all of us can be broken. Forget the lie
of childhood rhyme: words too can be thrown
with deadly precision. Just one and we shatter
like a castle built of sand. Be forbearing.
Remember the house you live in, accessible
not just to wolves but other pigs. Do not blow.
Keep your words light, let them not stir
a single straw. We can destroy whole worlds:
but what is the point? We live in them together.

One of my guilty pleasures is celebrity magazines. I recently saw a picture of Renee Zellweger, and heard snide comments on social media about the plastic surgery she seems to have had done. Then, a picture of Bonnie Bedelia seemed to show that she’d had work done on her face as well – I thought, she looks like Jennifer Grey, version 2. By that I mean, after Jennifer Grey had her nose fixed, she no longer looked like herself anymore.

But it would never occur to me to make rude comments about them. And I wondered why it is that people feel that they can mercilessly mock celebrities about plastic surgery.

They’re not cartoon characters, devoid of feelings. They read what you’re writing, and it hurts. They care about what others think. And that’s what led them to do this to themselves in the first place.

They’re really not some different breed of human being, living on starlight and moonbeams. They’re you and me.  Whatever it is that we think will make our lives better, our worlds prettier, our struggles more bearable, we do it.  Through the years, I’ve dyed my hair with a canary yellow streak, tried Zumba, gone to Weight Watchers. You name it, I’ve tried it.

In a way, we’re really painting the wrong canvas. It’s not how we look to the world that really matters. It’s how we look at the world.

If we think that everyone is only a sum of their parts – that women are only valid as long as they are young and beautiful and men, as long as they’re strapping and rich – we don’t live in a world that welcomes us. In some ways, we don’t live in the right neighborhood in our minds.

Light yourself up from the inside, and everything you look at on the outside is more beautiful. No nips or tucks necessary. Going under the knife won’t set your life right. The constant care and feeding of your soul is what makes you whole.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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