In my 62 ½ years of life I have experienced a lot. Some good, some bad. I recall, as vividly as if it were yesterday, the day that I was sitting in my third-grade classroom and our teacher told us we were being sent home early because President Kennedy had been killed. My younger brother and I walked home together not really understanding what ‘assassinated’ meant; but when we went through that weekend and saw so many of the adults in our lives in tears we knew that something had forever changed for the worse. I remember hearing about Dr. King, and Bobby Kennedy and feeling something within me die. I remember wondering in 1968 if we would ever see 1969. And then in 1972 and 1973 I remember wondering if I would end up dying in Vietnam before I was 21. As I got older I remember the economic collapse and ‘Black Monday’ in 1987. And on that day, I recall, as a 32-year-old new manager at GE Nuclear, wondering why grown men – far closer to retirement than I could understand or envision – were crying in their offices and in the hallways. I remember a lot from my life that made me question life and what kind of world we were living in.
But I don’t know if I can ever remember a time of my life when I have been so exhausted as I have been in the last 8 months by the constant and continuing instability that seems to have consumed our world, our leaders, our institutions, and our fellow human beings.
I am exhausted by the fact that tonight, as you read this, there will be people – a lot of people – in every nation, city, town, and village on this earth who will die from hunger, exposure to the elements, violence, and disease. All of which could be prevented by investments in research, programs, and services to cure and mitigate these problems. But instead our ‘leaders’ call each other names, refuse to discuss issues like adults, point fingers at everyone but themselves, and begin a debate on how to make the inequities in our society greater than they are already.
I am exhausted by the fact that lunatics throw threats at each other that could result in intended or unintended nuclear holocaust that would kill millions and millions of people. And while they focus on that people starve, schools fail, drug use soars, and the climate degrades.
I am exhausted by the hatred and violence that is driven by increasing divisions in this country and others. Divisions created by wealth inequity, religious intolerance, and a lack of common vision and commitment. And ‘leaders’ who should be working overtime to heal those divisions instead inflame them with a wink and a nod to the worse of the worst.
In general, when you are exhausted, you go somewhere and you rest. You stop doing what you are doing, you go to bed. But that cannot be the way this exhaustion is addressed by me – or by anyone else. No, this exhaustion can only be cured by working harder. By not resting but rather by acting. Not in the same way as those who exhaust us.
Not by violence, or hatred, or intolerance. No – because that is exactly what they want. If they can get us to be like them, then they win. We must overcome our exhaustion and instead exhaust them with our love, our commitment, and our willingness to treat each other with dignity and respect.
We can rest when the time is right. That time is not now.
John Berry, Chief Executive Officer, St. Vincent de Paul Georgia