Congress has gone home for its Easter recess, and spring has arrived.
Don't you feel better? I do.
I love spring; it gives me a much-needed sense of renewal. It causes me to pause. I also love it when Congress goes home. It becomes peaceful in Washington, D.C.. We can hear ourselves think. The negativity that envelops this town (and nation) ceases. And in the quiet, old, warm feelings steal back; kind feelings reawaken.
The numbness I suspect we all experience from the constant jabbering and fighting fades. Things I had forgotten about, or even become indifferent to, are reborn and flood me with a tingling awareness.
That's why I was almost jolted when I read a few words by Maria Shriver in her newsletter. "I've been thinking a lot," she wrote, "about ... the pope's statement that one of the greatest dangers we face is that of indifference."
Shriver recalled from her growing-up years the same events I remember as a girl, a teenager and a young woman:
"I remember the world stopping in its tracks when a president gave a speech to the nation," she wrote. "I remember time stood still when a man walked on the moon. I remember a nation that mourned and searched its soul when political leaders were gunned down in plain sight. I remember pictures of (starving) children from Biafra on the front of the newspaper causing the nation to talk."
Today, events succeed one another in intensity, and then depart rapidly. They forcibly grab our attention, then we move on. "It seems like we focus but only for a moment when there is a tragedy like 9/11, Sandy Hook, Ft. Hood or last week's stabbing at a high school in Pennsylvania by a young 16-year-old boy," Shriver wrote.
Then she asked the questions that likely caused Pope Francis to care if we are becoming an indifferent world.
"I'm wondering what's happening to us?" she wrote. "To our children? To our sense of community? To our empathy?
"How can we come together more in our politics, in our opinions, in our races, our genders? I worry we are moving too fast, digesting too much and nothing is landing."
Some things are landing. Across our country this past week, I saw signs that good people still stop and reflect, and draw strength from one another. In Boston, a remarkable community came together to remember the marathon bombing of a year ago. It gave me good chills, and goose bumps, to see how the people of Boston helped the injured to recover; to think on the faith and character they exhibited in the tragedy, and to ponder the resilience they've shown.
In Virginia, citizens across the state took a moment to come together and reflect on the nation's worst mass shooting, which took place in 2007 at Virginia Tech when a deranged student took 32 young lives. (It's been seven years!) In the city of West, Texas, 2,800 residents reflected on the explosion that took the lives of 15 of their own. In a town that size, everyone knows the deceased, and everyone has been affected. They came together as a community -- as a family.
These are but a few examples that we can still be a community, and a nation of empathy. Indeed, these events are encouraging signs we are not indifferent. There is evidence our concern for one another has not grown cold, or far worse, turned into indifference. Yet, especially when Congress is in town, indifference creeps back. On Palm Sunday, Pope Francis returned to the theme of indifference.
Francis scrapped prepared remarks and talked spontaneously for 15 minutes, asking those gathered to consider the individuals who surrounded Jesus. Some condemned him; some beat him. One of his own betrayed him; another, close to him, denied knowing him. Most people were indifferent.
Pope Francis urged the thousands present to ask themselves, "Where is my heart? Who among these people am I like? This question will remain with us all week," he said.
The opposite of love, psychologists say, is not hate. It's indifference. "I'm thinking a lot about this," Maria wrote, "and I'm thinking we can do better. As parents. As citizens. I don't want to lead an indifferent life. I don't want to raise children who are indifferent, who lack empathy."
Our national political dialog lacks empathy. The Congress no longer is the "world's greatest deliberative body." It is much more like a snarky, uninhibited, hellish comments section of an Internet news site. Parents should send their children out of the room when our congressional leaders have "an adult conversation" at their press conferences.
Pope Francis, whatever a person's faith, is a living example of one who has principles and is still respectful and loving of others. We face daunting global dangers. But the greatest danger to our national well-being is indifference, and the lack of respect and empathy that attends it. We can do better.
We can start with random acts of kindness and goodness. After all, change starts with us. Where we live, eat, pray, work or play. It's really up to us to make this a better world.