There’s a scene in what I think is the best movie of 2019, Jojo Rabbit, where the mother of the main character, a young German boy nicknamed Jojo, find themselves in the town square during the height of Hitlers’ power. She is staring intensely up above and Jojo has turned his face to the ground. Wordlessly, she forcefully palms his head and turns it to what she is fixed on. Overhead are a gallows, populated with dissenters of Nazi rule, hung for their opposition. He uncomfortably shifts, but holds the gaze. She tells him to look at it, take it in.
We’re in a planet wide pandemic. Planet wide. It fascinates me that throughout my lifetime there have been assaults on my nation, my state, my personhood, but never has there been something that has affected the entire planet so wholly as this virus has. It has brought people together in some ways, and isolated us in others.
Anxiety seems to be the ruler of the day. What will happen? When will it end? Was that cough indicative? Will my kids survive? Will I survive? Will the economy survive? How will we eat, how will we wipe our asses, how how how.
On the opposite spectrum are those who would refuse the warnings. Devil may care, this isn’t a real threat and society is overreacting. Nothing has changed. Nothing will change.
It occurred to me that there’s got to be an in between. Somewhere between fetal curl sobbing while gnawing on dry pasta and still going into work at your non essential job. Can we bear witness to this historical event? Can we bear witness to not just our own suffering but the pain and fear of those around us?
Bearing witness seems like an archaic phrase to me, but it’s quite beautiful. It’s not fixing the situation. It’s not ignoring the situation. Like Jojo in the town square, can we be forced to see the enormity of the situation and just be in it? Acknowledge it? Bear witness to all that is and will be because of it?
I’ve recently had some heartache. Gut wrenching, cry my eyes out for days, my whole life is over heartache. The last thing I want to do is sit in this sickly pain and fear and discomfort. I want to fix it. Or forget it happened and move on with my life as if it didn’t rip a hole in the fabric of my existence. Neither of these responses will heal me. I have to bear witness to my affliction, stay still with my brokenness and intensely stare into my grief. I don’t know what will happen or even what is happening inside me right now. But I want to stay present and vulnerable to that heartache and learn what it is trying to teach me.
It’s teaching me right now to be vulnerable. Share my tender underbelly with my best friends who have earned the right to know my story. Continue to share with them and ask for help to be raised up again. And again. I need to journal. A lot. I need to connect with others and not crawl into my shell and disappear.
How will you respond to this pandemic? Will you bear witness to this plague and how it’s affecting not just you but other humans across the globe? Will you stare into the storm and acknowledge its power, but deny its ability to separate you from your humanity? Will you reach out to others and share, carry each others grief and together learn what you can from this? I hope I can.