A Quiet Truth

A Quiet Truth

June 05, 2020

It’s a very American trait, this wanting people to think well of us. It’s a young want…” –Madeleine L’Engle

There’s a saying about how when you’re young you care what people think of you, but in middle age you stop worrying what people think. Eventually, you realize no one was ever thinking about you to begin with.

Does a country ever get that old? Should it ever be past the point of caring what others think? Let’s dispense with the last part of the equation about not being thought of. For the foreseeable future, America is on the minds and tongues of many.

But what if the thoughts go beyond rumor and innuendo, beyond politics and bluster? What if they carry an aching, quiet truth we haven’t been able to accept or address?

Recently, when teaching a writers’ retreat in Veneto, Italy, my students and I toured Venice during the Biennale Arte 2019, an exhibition of artists from all over the world with installations located throughout the Venetian islands. The theme: May You Live in Interesting Times. At the Basilica of San Giorgio I encountered the work of the painter Sean Scully and felt particularly drawn to pages on display that I thought were from his artistic journal. It turned out to be an illuminated manuscript he created, inspired by examples from the church’s library. The pages, crafted of handmade paper, featured watercolor drawings and Scully’s handwritten thoughts.

The words on this page left me thunderstruck.

CHILDREN

In America they kill their children.
The Police drive up and shoot point blank. Thus robbing us all of them, their future, and any hope their parents had.
We all understand that a dog licks its own ass. But that’s for cleaning purposes: it doesn’t eat it, unless it’s rabid.
It would seem, the pigs have returned.

Underneath these words Scully had made a rough drawing of an American flag with the stars piled into the lower left corner as if they’d been discarded. In their place in the top left field, is a drawing of a gun.

This is what one person thinks of America.

One possible immediate reaction: uproar. You can deny we are such a place of atrocity. “We are not FILL IN THE BLANK WITH ANOTHER COUNTRY’S NAME where X and X and X terrible things happen.”

True, we’re not. But can we let that thought go for a moment? What if we let this reaction settle like sand in the sea after a storm? Let’s peer into this calm clarity and look again.

In America they kill their children.

What if there’s a quiet truth to what this person, and most likely many others, think about our country?


The “us” Scully uses in “robbing us” tells me he is not shaming America in an “us vs. them” kind of way. He knows we’re all in this together; we all lose and become less when children die. We lose more than future prospects—we lose the now. We lose a way of being in the world and of seeing the world right now. Christ didn’t pay attention to children because they were cute and funny and potential disciples. He lauded the way they were in the present moment, with mouths full of perfect praise and eyes that recognized the kingdom of God all around them. They are portals to the eternal through which we can see and grasp at once where we have come from and the hope and promise of what we have yet to be in the maturation of faith. With each child lost to violence, another precious door to joy is closed.I could start a list here, but I won’t. I don’t have to. You can call upon your own a catalog of images, names of both perpetrators and victims, and towns, and vigils. You won’t have to delve too deeply into history and you would also know this goes well beyond police, the multitude of whom do protect, serve, and, now I’m thinking of the Sandy Hook officer who provided the colorful plastic ducks to children during the many gray days after 12/14, love. But a mere ten years can provide a sampling of young lives lost to gun violence, serial killers, suicide, abuse, and neglect, large enough to shatter.

In America they kill their children.

I’m going to place this thought here: Someone thinks this of us. It may be true. If we are brave enough to see and accept that it is, what will we do about it?

 

 

 

_______________ 

Sophfronia Scott is author of the novels All I Need to Get By (St. Martin’s Press) and Unforgivable Love (William Morrow) and the essay collection Love's Long Line (The Ohio State University Press/Mad Creek Books). Sophfronia holds a BA in English from Harvard and an MFA in writing, fiction and creative nonfiction, from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Currently she is working on her next novel as well as a nonfiction book about her virtual mentorship with the monk Thomas Merton. Her website is www.Sophfronia.com.

 

  

Photo by Joseph Chan on Unsplash 

 

Sophfronia Scott's piece was originally published in The Waking on December 10, 2019.



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