My friend shared a story that made him sad. He apologized for not also sharing a disturbing image that had so affected him, his word-picture spilled into my mind and my gut churned in sympathy. I felt his words swell and overflow whatever it is that contains our emotions until we can no longer endure the mounting evidence of our inhumanity.
He described what might for many have been a binary situation: a person with authority over others, exercising that power as though the world consisted of white-black, yes-no, good-evil, and we had to choose between them; as though there were no spectrum, no scale of values and appropriate action. The choice they imposed—because they could—brought grievous harm to the innocent, the unknowing. I was not there, in the situation my friend described in four intense sentences. But I would choose to have been anywhere else; to have been ignorant rather than powerless. Social media invite knowledge of such happenings to our doorstep every day and we welcome them in, because there is always the potential to encounter the good and uplifting, perhaps even the noble; to witness the evidence of our better selves.
My friend’s words accomplished what words can do: resonate with the human condition; remind us that life is over-rich with difficult decisions. That existence and affirmation and empathy and compassion are better than their opposites. They opened his soul—not the soul that survives death, but the one that endures while we live. Possibly without intending to, my friend had written a poem, which, like the best poetry, took me where he is, to what he saw and felt; a handful of words I might prefer not to have read but which I cannot now unread and reclaim my comforting complaisance. He invited me to acknowledge our common cause and I could do nothing but accept, because there is work to do and truth to write. And that is why he is my friend.