“Ever more people today have the means to live, but
no meaning to live for.” ~ Viktor Frankl
When I was about 12 years old, there was a teacher who made an impact on me, by declaring one of my classmates ‘inconsequential’. I forget what provoked the comment, but it was handed down in a very demeaning way: “Look how you little and inconsequential”, and was designed to humiliate. I am not sure we understood the word completely, and as children do, we turned it into a joke by calling our classmate ‘Consy’ for a while. The dreams and aims of children are weak and wispy and often easy to tamp down. It doesn’t take much to teach a spirited, outspoken girl that she should be quiet, and demure, and keep her opinions to herself.
I heard the term used in a positive way, to describe one of the victims of the Emanuel AME Church massacre. A pastor who had known the Rev. Clementa Pinckney since childhood told a reporter that ‘we always knew he would live a consequential life’. That phrase resonated with me, and I have heard the echoes of it all week. He began preaching at the age of 13, and became pastor at the age of 18. He was elected to South Carolina House of Representatives at the age of 23. He had a powerful voice, and he used it in the service of his people. And the fact that his consequential life was cut short, has brought him to the attention of the world. Rather than shut down his impact and silence that voice, his death has served to amplify and empower his message.
And the church itself, Mother Emanuel, as she is called, has her own significant history. I am one of those who had never heard about her until this incident. She played a powerful role in the liberation of the slaves, in providing sanctuary, and in planning revolution and rebellion. So in choosing this historic place, the assassin has brought the church and its mission to the attention of a far larger audience.
It has been said that the gunman wished to start a Civil War. And what he seems to have generated is ‘Civil Peace’: a generously forgiving conversation started by the families of the slain; a remarkable show of restraint and solidarity among the people of the community; and an amazing groundswell of unity across the races, in the city of Charleston and the state of South Carolina.
This horrible act, that has cut short the lives of 9 amazing individuals, all with their own particular story and evidence of heroism in their lives, has served to wake us up to the consequences of our actions and our inaction. It has forced us to have the difficult conversations about racism in the USA in the 21st century, and the unhealed wounds and legacies. And if we take the time to listen to each other, and to speak honestly, it may be possible to turn this tragedy into opportunity, the chance for an evolution of act and attitude in this country.
South Africa chose to handle its own cruel history of apartheid, oppression and murder by holding sessions of ‘Truth and Reconciliation”, hearings where those who could have been accused of heinous crimes were instead invited to speak honestly about their acts of murder and violence. This permitted the families of those who had been mistreated or killed to have some kind of closure. In return for the honesty, the oppressors were not punished. They hoped that this would promote the recovery of the population; that it would provide some sense of closure. The admittance of guilt and acceptance of responsibility was somehow more healing than vengeance and punishment. This requires a great deal of generosity of spirit on the part of those who have been hurt. But hanging onto anger and blame harms the one who is holding the coals of rage.
Those of us who are not called to greatness, who do not step into shoes of awesome responsibility at an early age, can still make our own lives consequential. I read this week of a truck driver, who offered a much needed snack to a stranger who was stranded in a long traffic jam. The stranger had diabetes, and was suffering from low blood sugar, a condition which can lead to coma, brain damage and even death if not reversed. That simple act, which may have seemed inconsequential to the giver, was of great consequence to the man with diabetes!
We may not know how our acts impact others, we should do them anyway. We may think that no one is watching, we should do them anyway. We may think that one person cannot possibly make a difference, but it takes only one person to start something.
I hope that on this wonderful Friday morning you can find your own meaning, and plan to live a consequential life! Have a fabulous weekend Family!