Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing,
There is a field.
I will meet you there.
As a teacher I saw this sort of scene unfold more times than I can recall.
I would be watching group of children playing a game – kickball or keep-away or freeze tag. I’d look away for just a moment and then suddenly I’d hear a scream. When I looked back I’d see one of the children lying on the ground, hugging his knee, and crying. When the other children saw me rushing over, their response was predictable: They’d immediately begin to point fingers. Literally. “He did it!” one would cry insistently pointing to the child standing next to him. “No I didn’t! He did,” the accused would yell, pointing back. And then a third would point at the hurt child, shake his head and calmly assert, “No one touched him. He tripped. He did it all by himself.”
Often it was the case that none of the children really knew what happened for sure. It all happened so quickly and everyone was moving so fast. They were all so intent on winning that no one was really paying attention. And since I wasn’t watching when it happened, I was in no better position to determine who was guilty than they were.
My response as the adult in charge was always the same. I’d go and kneel by the injured child. “Please stop arguing,” I’d say to the other children. “When someone is hurt, you need to stop what you are doing immediately and check to see if they are okay.”
“But we didn’t do it on purpose!” “It was an accident!” they’d insist. “It’s not our fault!”
“Whether or not it was accident doesn’t matter right now,” I’d say, “What matters is that someone is hurt – and when someone is hurt, you must stop what you are doing and see what you can do to make it better. You need to ask what you can do to help. You stop the game and you don’t go back to playing until you know your friend is okay.”
So I would ask one child to help their friend up and move them to a safer spot. And I would tell another to run and get the first aid kit. And yet another would sit down and tell their friend jokes until their knee was bandaged and they were able to smile again.
And then we would all sit down together and figure out how to make the game safer.
. . . .
I am not sure that as adults we do much better than our younger counterparts when it comes to injury. Something terrible and tragic happens and we immediately begin clawing our way to the moral high ground. “It wasn’t me!” we insist. “I didn’t do it!” “He did it first and HE didn’t get in trouble.” “You always let him get away with it!” “Why am I the one who always gets punished?” When it comes to casting blame and refusing responsibility, we behave like frightened, petulant children on a playground.
And all the while the injured party is left to wonder if anyone is even paying attention to their pain.
I’ve been thinking about this phenomenon quite a bit this week in the aftermath of the senseless violence in Tuscon last week. This is not about what’s on purpose and what’s an accident. This isn’t about “Boy, are you going to get it!” and “I told you so!” This is about tending to the injured. And stopping in our tracks to ask ourselves if we are playing the game safely.
We are all in this together because we were all playing the game when it happened. So we are all responsible for making it better. We have to retrace our steps and ask ourselves what we were doing when it happened. Were we moving too fast? Were we pushing others aside? Were we not watching where we were going? Did we get too rough, forgetting that other people were human and vulnerable? Or were we simply distracted and not paying attention?
It is all too easy to point fingers. It easier still just to dust ourselves off, turn our backs, and walk away as if nothing happened.
We need to stop the game. Now. This is no longer about winners and losers.
We need help the injured stand again. We need to tend to their pain. And we need to ask what we can do to make it better.
Then we need to sit down together and figure out how to make the game safer for all of us.
After all, we are playing on God’s field with God’s children. So let’s play fair.