It feels we’ve had a lot of loss this year. Loss of over 5000 to the Mediterranean Sea. Loss of beloved singers and performers. Loss of family members and friends. Loss of world leaders. Loss of authors. 2016 feels like such a year of loss and more, a lack of hope for our tumultuous world. Homelessness, mass shootings, fires, wars, impending genocides, President-Elect Trump – it is so daunting and so overwhelming. More, it’s incredibly difficult to remain hopeful.
I had a personal loss this year, that the world felt as well. Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, Nobel Peace Prize Winner and author, left us. To me, he was also my professor and my mentor. News of his death swept the world quickly and left me numb and feeling a bit more alone than I did before.
Those who studied with Elie Wiesel did so because we had a desire to learn and to understand on the most profound and astute level one can glean. I have written about my experience before, yet, the reality is that what I learned from Elie Wiesel is what guides me in my every day life, and in everything I do.
Many disliked Elie Wiesel for what they feel were incendiary remarks about Palestine and Palestinians. He was controversial to say the least, I agree. Funny thing is, so did he. In class, he would say, I contradict myself. And that’s OK. There was such a lesson in his understanding of who he was and how he got there. His stance on Israel, as harsh as it was for the Palestinians, was understandable. The beautiful thing about my understanding that was, that even though I didn’t agree with him at all about Palestine, I listened to him. I heard him.
I took it personally when I saw some comments celebrating Professor Wiesel’s death. People saying it was good that he died because he was Pro-Israeli. This is what is wrong with the world. Because when we celebrate someone’s death, we dishonor God and all that God stands for.
As I thought about this, I realized that this dishonor doesn’t just stop with Professor Wiesel. It extends to the 400,000 refugees lost at sea. It extends to all those who have died in mass shootings in the US this year. It extends to all the black lives that have been cut short by police officers in the US this year. It extends to the over 1000 women whom have died at the hands of their partners this year. It extends to the 19,000 children that die every day around the world due to malnutrition and disease. It extends to the Islamic State’s actions around the world this year. It extends to Aleppo. It extends to all the animals that have been tortured and killed this last year for sport, for food, for fun. It extends to our dying earth.
We dishonor each other. Every day. Because the truth is, if we can’t all honor every single living being on this planet as God does, in all Her wisdom and creation, then we dishonor every single living being in this planet.
Our anger, frustration, and even our opinions, make us so hateful. People who had never even met Professor Wiesel were calling him horrible names. People who don’t know a single Arab, cheer the deaths of 5,000 at sea. People who love their sons, don’t care about the women they’ve killed. It is so extreme, our lack of compassion, our willingness to blame everyone else, our unwillingness to care – it all leaks out of our bodies, like oil, leaving an unending slick of loss and deprivation of what is good and humane.
And then we get up and do it all over again the next day.
So, what to do? Fred Roger’s (also known as Mr. Rogers) mother told him to: Look for the helpers. And that’s what I do. That’s what I am. Because if I don’t help, if I am just a bystander, that is doing exactly what Professor Wiesel told me not to do.
In the sea of mass hysteria and violence, the helpers are there. The helpers are plucking people out of the Mediterranean. The helpers are working to empower women in abusive relationships. The helpers are working on peace deals in Syria, the Middle East, and Sudan. The helpers are standing up for black lives in the US. The helpers are saving animals and our planet. The helpers are hopeful, when the rest of us can’t be. Or are too numb to be.
My writing feels a bit scattered today – as does the world. I am not going to fix it, because it reflects, I believe, how we all feel right now. And really, how can it not be scattered, when all that is happening in the world manifests in how we feel and how we live every day of our lives on this planet – that sometimes feels is going to give up on us?
I miss knowing Professor Wiesel is still walking among us, spreading his knowledge and understanding to those who listened. With that, I will continue to carry with me what I learned from him and do my work in his name.
Last, I vote for a mass conspiracy. A conspiracy of helpers helping. A conspiracy of no bystanders. No matter what. A conspiracy of love. A conspiracy of compassion. A conspiracy of honoring each other. Because that’s really what we’re all supposed to do. Honor each other. Always. As God honors us, every, single day. Always. I guess you’d say it’s a conspiracy of need. We need each other. God needs us. We need God. Today and every day. Now, that’s a conspiracy. Won’t you join me?
Karen Leslie Hernandez is a theologian and interfaith activist. With a focus in Christian-Muslim Understanding, as well as religious fundamentalism and extremism, Karen is the only theologian who is a Latina and a United Methodist, doing this type of theological work in the US. She has published with several media outlets including the Women’s United Nations Report Network, The Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue/Studies, State of Formation, and she was the only Christian to publish an ongoing Op-Ed Column with OnIslam out of Cairo, Egypt. Karen also has a featured chapter in Qasim Rashid’s latest book, Talk to Me: Changing the Narrative on Race, Religion & Education. Karen lectures and teaches, with her last teaching gig at Meadville Lombard Theological School, where she taught an Interfaith Dialogue workshop to students from six countries. Karen is a proud Wellesley College alumnae, has two Theological master’s degrees from both Andover Newton Theological School and Boston University School of Theology, and she is currently pursuing her Doctor of Ministry at Claremont School Theology. Karen lives in San Francisco, is an Ambassador with the Parliament of the World’s Religions, tutors women who are incarcerated, and she is a Domestic Violence Advocate.