I’m not one to jump into debates. Usually I feel there are plenty of voices already, and I’d prefer to spend my energy on something fun. I figured this whole deal would blow over soon, but yesterday it turned savage with petitions and racial slurs and breaches in privacy, and I decided to share this as a way to relieve my aching heart. Here is my letter to you:
I woke up Sunday to news articles and videos and vile comments en mass about the Cincinnati zoo. It was strange to see the place we’ve visited so often being discussed everywhere from the New Yorker to LA Times to BBC News.
I’m a hopeless animal freak. The way I see it, when you’re a hard-core fan of an artist, you’re pretty thrilled with all their work, not just the most famous masterpiece, the NYT best seller, the song that tops charts. Humans are the masterpiece of the Artist I’m most in to, and they maintain the title eternally. But animals are a spectacular piece to behold; fascinating, funny, colorful, intuitive, loyal and fierce.
There was no small dismay when a few minutes into the reading, I realized the headlines the night before were erroneous, and Harambe the handsome gorilla had been shot and killed, not tranquilized.
As I read on, I encountered a greater horror; the tarnishing of the human masterpiece right before my eyes by corrosive judgment, criticism, and hatred.
In full honesty, I admit my own initial judgement-based irritation. Parents who are passive to their child’s whereabouts, who aren’t sensitive to safety concerns and ensuring their child is respectful of property and people around them, are one of my top pet peeves. Kids who are reckless and disregard rules and manners are up there too.
I wondered how on earth a child the age of my youngest could accomplish such a feat. And I shook my head yet again at the terrifying mystery of these small humans with so many physical capabilities but zero reasoning capabilities. I have questions for God about this. A child learns to walk at 1 yr. old, and yet is unable to rationalize until 15 (or 25) years? This feels fatefully backwards.
My thoughts soon turned to my little cousin, and others like him, whose brain sends impulses beyond what he can control, accompanied by a fierce supply of speed and tenacity. I thought about his mom’s tired eyes, the way a leash or stroller or hand-holding would be a never ending battle for his sensory sensitive body.
I thought about the things that have happened already in 3 short years of parenting that I said I’d never do, scorned other parents for. I’ve operated on autopilot and realized later what disasters could’ve occurred, looked at my phone at stupid times, had anger issues…the list goes on.
If my flaws caused a public scene, I’d be next in line for a social media execution.
Last night I dreamed my mom and I went to an event and forgot we left Sami in the car, a scenario I’ve declared I could never do. In my dream I was stunned at my frail humanity. And not only mine, my mom’s too, who happens to be the best mother I know.
Parenting has taught me with wicked clarity that I am just as human, just as likely to screw up on the major, as anyone else. We’re all the same, we just haven’t all had a face-down fall that wakes us up to it yet.
What our hearts really need is grace and peace, and we find it when we live in kinship. I think kinship starts with the kindness of believing others are doing the best they can in the moment.
I know of nothing so hard as this- especially for us who’ve been marinated in religion and garnished with a hearty side of perfectionism.
To give grace doesn’t mean there aren’t boundaries, consequences, and room for growth and change. It just means we lay down the judgement and the criticism, towards others and ourselves, and leave the growing up to God. We see what we all really are: created masterpieces in God’s image, battered and flawed, desperate for grace, and desperately loved. (For excellent reading on this, check out Brené Brown’s book, Rising Strong.)
Grace is radical, in part, because others’ flaws look more obvious and easy to fix than our own. But we keep practicing, because kinship is our doorway to peace; personal, racial, global, spiritual.
So to you, heart-wrung Mommy of a boy recovering from the wildest day- I choose blessing over cursing, mercy over judgment, kindness over criticism.
I believe you are doing the best you can.
If it were me, calling out what must have felt like one last “I love you, baby”, as you watched your child in the hands of 400 lb. Harambe; regardless of my animal love, if the desperation of the moment offered no other safe solution, I would have begged officials to do whatever it took to get my child out alive. It’s what mothers do. We fall down 7 times and getting up 8, all the while hoping desperately for our child to grow up loved and safe. Your son’s worth, his gift to the world, his unique creation and resemblance of God himself, is invaluable.
And by the way, yours is too.
From a mommy just as human as you,