Mourning What Is by Karen Leslie Hernandez

My daughter has seen a lot in her 29 years.

Never was Katy able to play outside alone without the watchful eyes of us, her parents.

School became an unsafe haven for mass shooter safety drills.

9/11 brought a whole new understanding of how to navigate “the Other.”

Insurmountable wars still rage across her TV screen.

Global climate disasters that require her to have a mask handy in case of choking smoke from fires hundreds of miles away.

And, now, a pandemic. Of all things. A worldwide pandemic that has literally affected every single person on the planet.

Although Katy is an adult now, the last week has left me stunned and asking, what world did I choose to bring her in to? What world did I help create for my adult daughter? And my wider questions – what world are we leaving our children? Will there be a world for those who we await in mind and heart, unborn – just a thought for the future?

Rhetorical questions? Perhaps to some. Real questions? Yes. Questions without answers? Definitely.

As a theologian, I have had people ask me the last few weeks – where is God in this? Why does God let bad things happen?

My answer? I have no idea – and I am OK with not knowing. I am OK with just the questions, because God is present in those questions.

I do think a lot while self-isolating, however. I waffle between the notion of what it is you might believe as a faithful person and what I feel deep down to be my truth. If you believe in free will, well, then, we did all of this – we helped get us to where we are today. However, if you believe in pre-destination, then, perhaps you believe this is God’s way of taking care of us – perhaps, She’s done with us – tired of us causing so much harm to each other and the planet – so, this is Her hand. Two very philosophical and theological ideas to posit – with absolutely no “correct” answers. Where do I stand? I’m not sure – but, I do believe that God helps us through the bad times – times that we, as humans, for the most part, cause.

Is it the end of the world? I don’t think so. Is it the end of the world as we know it? Yes.

My truth? I mourn. I mourn my daughter’s life experiences at just 29 years old. I mourn that she has lived in fear – of everything – even though her father and I gave her amazing experiences, taught her that fear is to be conquered, and let her fly to be the incredible human she is. Yet, as I write this, I wonder about this fear – how much of it is real and how much of it have we created, or more, exacerbated? Katy, my fierce, independent daughter, who was born overseas, lived in India with me, and just last year stayed three nights in the Malaysian Jungle tracking tigers and other wild animals to ensure their survival. My bright daughter holds and carries light, while this underlying fear permeates and has permeated her entire life – creating a darkness that follows, or perhaps, precedes, that light. I believe this is true for all millennials and for those younger than her as well – this world is hard. And we, those that came before, have made it that way.

I wonder about younger parents – how do we, and can we, raise our children in this world that will never, even when this pandemic is “over,” be the same? We all keep saying that we can’t wait to, “… go back to normal.” Yet the reality is, what was, won’t ever be again. And whatever the new normal will be, we have yet to experience. This, I find is, simply put, scary.

In that, I am continually reminding myself that we have never been here before so we are all learning. It is because of this pandemic that our planet has stopped, curtailed, and jolted us to a reality that reminds us that we are not in control – of anything.

I also think a lot and find myself asking – will food be more scarce if this goes longer than expected? Will wars spark, because of this? Will conflict end, because of this? Will we be better, because of this? Or, will we forget and go back to what was our normal behavior, because of this? Will we care, because of this? Or, will we be more selfish, because of this? Will kindness and compassion prevail, because of this? Or, will we continue to be assholes and hoard the toilet paper, because of this?

Per usual with me, so many questions and no answers. What I do know is this – I want my daughter and all of our children to have just a snippet of peace – with no fear of “the other,” no hate, no harmful words, no killing, no hunger, no homelessness, no mass shootings, no dead babies washing ashore, no racism, no planes dropping chemical weapons, no detention camps, no poverty, no pandemics. As I view this list, it’s so glaringly simple in its need – almost as if I can’t fully grasp why these things aren’t normal. They are so practical. So imperative. So necessary. Yet, they escape us, entirely. How strange. How perplexing. How truly misguided we are.

I thought of writing a piece that makes all of us feel better about the peril we are in right now, but, then I thought, why? While there is good in this world, yes, and many of those reading this, work in the realm of ministry, we feed people, we build homes, we are social workers, we save animals – the reality is, this is a wake-up call. To all of us. I can only hope and pray that those who need to hear it, do. In the meantime, I will continue to mourn what is. Yet in that mourning, I will continue to love and move through this world with compassion and intention. Because that’s really all I, or any of us, can do. Or, is it?


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, the Interfaith Observer, and she is the only Christian to publish an ongoing Op-Ed Column with OnIslam out of Cairo, Egypt. She loves to teach and last year designed and taught an Interfaith Dialogue workshop with Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago. Karen currently lives in San Francisco, is consulting with the United Religions Initiative, is an Ambassador with Parliament of the World’s Religions, and she also does Domestic Violence Faith Advocacy work across the US.

Categories: General, Loss

Tags: , , ,

11 replies

  1. There is so much compassion and love and fear and reckoning in your writing today. I am around your daughter’s age and experienced 9/11 when I was quite young, too. I also experienced it as a Muslim living in the US at a time when fear of Islam was so pervasive it even extended into “jokes’ in comedy and into songs and just into popular vernacular. Like you and her, I have had to wrestle with those questions: how will we come out of this? Will we be stronger or selfish? To be honest, to this day, I am not sure we ever left that state of fear and whether we will ever leave the fear of this illness.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Tara. I didn’t even speak to the fact that it is even more difficult for those who are of different race, culture, or faith. That compounds this fear even more, for you, and others such as yourself – and is a different kind of fear… a different way to move through the world. It’s a lot.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I wish I didn’t have to say this – Americans don’t “do” fear – they bury it – fearful people are ridiculed – However this fear affects everyone. As a PTSD survivor I am one of millions who struggles each day with fear on a level that is incomprehensible to many- I just keep trying to walk with it, be with it even when it pulls me out of my body – fear is “what is”

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sara, I am so impressed with your candor for sharing that you are a PTSD survivor. I pray you find strength in all the little moments, and sometimes in the big ones also. That is a big burden to carry. Karen, you are so right – it does compound the fear even more. But I also feel it’s important for us all to share our fears so we can lift each other up when we need it. Big hugs to you and your daughter.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. How does She tell us that unless we care for her waters, there will be droughts? How does She impress upon us the magic of clean air, until there is none? How does She make us understand that we are all so interconnected until a small town in China sends the world reeling? And how does She make us assess what is really valuable in life until we stand on the brink of losing everything?

    No, she has not abandoned us. Our Mother has lessons to teach us, and goodness knows, we need to learn them. The world needs to change, and I hope we learn our lessons soon.

    I do see a beauty in all of this. Our nightingales and peonies, our streams and stones are all doing quite well through this crisis. It is only people who need these lessons.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Mary Ann. For this reminder. I do too… and I appreciate where you wrote, “… I do see a beauty in all of this.” This is a much needed reminder…


  3. Thank you for your questions!


  4. I think your questions are perhaps more important than the answers…You know climatologists have been warning us for at least four years that a pandemic was in the offering – there WILL be more to come – the planet is heating up – we have destroyed so much creating an imbalance that Nature is struggling to deal with…I think we need to be asking questions and those that believe that we will return to “normal” – well – what’s that? A Straw Man’s socially constructed virtual reality? NATURE IS LIVING REALITY – we are delusional. I feel for you regarding your daughter – you didn’t know then what we do now – YOU HAVE DONE AND CONTINUE TO DO THE BEST YOU CAN. THIS IS WHAT MATTERS – on the other hand this is no time to be having more children in my opinion – we are leaving them lost and lonely. ( I can hear screams of outrage coming from some – who does she think she is ) May you move through this time and find some peace – Blessings…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It is so important to grieve and lament in these times, not rush to comfort or try to dodge the sadness. I wept tonight for a six week old baby who died today of coronavirus. I know babies die all the time. But it is a time to mourn, indeed. I often weep for all our children facing the uncertain planet. <3


  6. Yes, friend, I am mourning as well. Currently my emotions flow between anger and sorrow. Grief is essential. When we allow ourselves to sit in this space, as uncomfortable as it is, it too will pass. And something new will emerge. It always does. xo


  7. Parenting is hard now in ways I think it has never been so hard before. Thank you for sharing some thoughts and wisdom on this truly daunting challenge.


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