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Shelley Flannery and I became friends over matching shoes. This was back in first grade, when such things were not only possible but probable. We both wore red Mary Janes on the first day of school, and that, as they say, was that. It seemed a perfectly reasonable basis for a friendship, especially as the first thing I’d ever read (two years earlier, in my sister’s first grade primer) was a story about two girls bonding over having worn the same red dress to school. First grade primers are never wrong.

Finding common ground gets harder as we grow older; instead, we become focused on differences. Yet just the other night in the grocery store, this occurred: a man tapped my husband on the shoulder, and when he turned around, the man quickly apologized, saying, “I’m sorry; I thought you were my friend.”

To which my husband responded, “I’ll be your friend!” And the two shook hands. Maybe it can still be that easy. Maybe if we search out the things that unite us instead of the things that divide us, there’s hope for us yet.

You cannot find
what you do not seek.
Keep to what you know at heart:
We are all of us moving sacks of miracles,
made of the same well-trod dust.
Nothing plumed, furred or scaled
can know us better: know the feel of air
sluicing through our nostrils, the taste
of fruit (honey-smothered summer),
the way our bodies feel in flight.
Let us stumble over serendipity,
and finding it, delight in it.
Come, find yourself in the last place
you’d ever think to look,
in the body you do not know,
in the immanent place
our souls converge.

As our government transitions from one president to the next, most of us are praying for peace. I include myself in their number. What I cannot stand behind, however, is the call to “forgive and move on.” To explain, I must bring in my Catholic upbringing. In the sacrament of Reconciliation, two things are required. One: the sinner must recognize that she has sinned and admit her responsibility for wrongdoing. Two: the sinner must resolve not to sin again. Of course, we — sinners all — fail at this repeatedly, but we should at least show a determination to try not to repeat our sins.

I have seen no recognition of sin or resolve not to repeat it from those who dared to rock our democracy to its core. Without these things, there can be no reconciliation. But without reconciliation, how does our country move forward? As Shakespeare might say, “Aye, there’s the rub.”

Take up needles
and begin the slow work
of knitting a country together.
The constituents are disparate,
some soft, new-spun, some
rope that once bound hands,
some silk, some knotted string.
Some of it will bloody our bodies
with barbs. No matter. We will
not still our hands. Each stitch
will be a prayer, each row an invitation
to join the circle. No person is exempt.
Perhaps at first, we will produce a sock,
a scarf, a mitten. Let us aim to weave
a blanket big enough to cover us all.
Begin.

Instead of focusing on the president’s tone-deaf reaction to the horrific act of terror at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, let’s turn back the clock for a moment. During the Iraq War, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld famously said, to a gathering of soldiers: “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you want.” This ranks as a shining example of a Tone-Deaf Moment in History.

A reporter named Edward Lee Pitts had been embedded during the war, and realized he’d been assigned to a company that had an unarmored truck. Since there wasn’t enough armor to cover all of the soldiers’ vehicles, they’d been forced to rummage through scrap piles in the region to salvage metal so they could “up-armor” the truck.

The reporter wanted to ask Rumsfeld why the troops weren’t being given enough supplies or protection, but was told that press wouldn’t be allowed to ask questions. Pitts approached a soldier to see if he would ask Rumsfeld the question and persuaded the A-V technician to give that soldier the microphone.

This is a case of one reporter asking why his own life was in danger, and by extension, all of the troops that were sent to fight and die. If something is important enough, you find a way to stand up for what’s right. You may even have to go around “proper channels.” Lately, it seems propriety is a thing of the past.

Since the message hasn’t been conveyed officially, we’d like to extend heartfelt condolences to the congregants and families of the Tree of Life Synagogue and the Jewish community around the world. Let’s conspire together to ensure this moment isn’t remembered for the tone-deaf non-response of the government. Good people around the world hold you up in prayer. You are not alone.

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Have a Mary Little Christmas

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