On Monday night I wanted to do anything other than watch the debate. It was the end of a really good day off, one that happened to land on the first day that has felt like fall—crisp, breezy, and sun-soaked. We’d whiled away the day with long walks, bargain-hunting, a little cooking, and a long bedtime-story session. All I’d wanted to do to cap off such a good day was to curl up on the couch in the living room with a great book and a glass of wine.
But there was this little nagging question in my head: Should I watch?
My first answer was an emphatic NO!
And not because I’m somehow disengaged from the democratic process. I stay “in it” through articles I read and radio reports and podcasts I listen to. But debates are not my thing. I don’t find them particularly informative or entertaining.
Mostly, I knew it would provoke me. I knew it would add fuel to the fire of my frustration. I knew I’d end up laughing, crying, or shouting. (I avoid that kind of confrontation… even if it’s with the television.) And after such a blessed day of rest I was loathe to get worked up about… well… everything.
But there was that question again: Should I watch? Was there a good reason to get worked up, to do something beyond my comfort zone?
The memory of a tiny little book popped into my head. Two days earlier I’d finished reading Out of Solitude by Henri Nouwen. (In truth, it’s little more than a pamphlet, but by calling it a book I feel a lot more accomplished for having read it.) Rarely has such a tiny book created such a tectonic shift in my thinking, sticking with me in soul-shaping ways. (I underlined at least a quarter of it.) The second chapter talks about caring. Care and caring are such dissipated words. They’ve come to mean less well-meaning things, having been neutered by overuse and misuse. But the way Nouwen talks about care is bold and brave and really, really hard.
The word care finds its roots in the Gothic Kara, which means lament. The basic meaning of care is “to grieve, to experience sorrow, to cry out with.”
Nouwen says that to truly do the selfless and humanizing work of caring we must slow down enough that we hold off our impulses to fix, manipulate, and control our pain and the pain of others. Even the best-intentioned do-gooders among us can sometimes steamroll through the heartache of those we intend to help as we barrel forth on our way to fixing everything. Nouwen would argue that by doing this we are robbing them of some of what makes them (and us) human.
He’s talking full-on, heartbreaking empathy. I don’t want to do that. It sounds awkward and painful.
But as I sat there and allowed myself to be a little convicted I started thinking about all the people who might watch the debate that night, people who are different than me. I imagined people who would have their eyes glued to the screen while their fingers clutched a paystub or a social security check that they were sure wouldn’t see them through next week. I thought of people who would be filling out immigration forms or asylum petitions. I thought of those who feel they have no voice who wondered if one of the candidates would speak for them or might hear them at the very least. I thought of military families and law-enforcement families. I thought of people worldwide who are caught up in conflicts or who are causing conflicts who have their eyes on who will be our next leader. All of these people would be anxiously watching the debate because our next leader will dramatically alter their lives and their livelihoods. These people are uninsulated by the ease I enjoy, one that affords me the luxury of choosing a good book over a debate that might get me a little fired up.
And perhaps I’m overspiritualizing this whole thing, but I felt like God was asking me to push my caring beyond the boundaries of my usual categories, hammering home the words of Philippians 2: In humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Well, if that perspective doesn’t influence the way I act, the questions I ask, the reasons I vote…
One of Nouwen’s lines that I underlined was this: Dare to care.
So Monday night I watched the debate. I watched it with eyes for all those who would watch with anxious, heavy, and wounded hearts. And as everyone continues to debate who won, who got the best burn, and who got the facts straight, I don’t think I’m any more educated or informed, entertained or convinced.
But I have come away a little more caring.