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.