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  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

No time to crack a joke

Decades ago, before the term became part of our cultural lexicon, I wrote a spiritual memoir

entitled “Killing the Helicopter Woman,” which told the tale of my own pile of ashes turned to beauty through the relentless pursuit of the Author of Love.

In the novel I share about the night I picked up the phone ringing on the wall at 2 a.m. only to be informed my father had been killed by a drunk driver.  For the remainder of that night, my brother and I witnessed my stoic mother’s dissembling, watched the family problem solver as she wept and cried out over and over again, “What am I going to do?  What am I going to do?”

I couldn’t solve that problem for her, just a sixteen year old girl at sea.  And neither could my brother.  At what passed for breakfast that next morning, the grief was too overwhelming for me.  It was Sunday.  The funnies were on the table, and the only thing I could think of was to say or do something to try and bring levity to that situation. And in that moment, a new family role emerged.

I would be the one to lighten the mood.

Over the years, like many who experience trauma, I developed a gallows sense of humor, one that often elicited a quick laugh and just as quickly an uncomfortable silence.  Keeping things light and “in perspective” became a way to not deal with my own grief and pain.

All this, my friends, to say that I really wanted to write about happy trails and sunrises and my fluffy dog and my dear husband and an encounter with a stranger that left me breathless with delight and insight.

But I can’t.

Not today.  Not after the stories.  Not after the pictures.

You see, we planned a fundraiser for the children in a small town in Sonora.  This sleepy border town had been lovingly embraced by a community center, Casa de La Esperanza, funded by an organization in Tucson.  A few weeks back, I sat at a table with the women running the center after a journey with our pastor through the desert and along The Wall.

The building is small and unpretentious, but the adobe walls are festooned with butterflies, a symbol of hope and transformation.  During lunch , I listened to the beautiful, musical sound of the Spanish language, which I do not speak.  But I know hearts.  And the faces of the women doing this tireless work glowed with a brightness that can only be found in people “on mission”.

Later we drove to an adobe building hard to miss due to the brilliant magenta hue and the colorful murals of flowers, children, and books.  A library was to be built there.  I say “was” because the project is on hold for awhile.

War has broken out in the streets of this little town.

Warring cartel gangs are fighting for control of human trafficking, a “business” which has become more profitable than drug smuggling thanks to the failed immigration policies of the United States and Mexico.  Their battle for power took over the streets of the town.  For ten days, gunfire echoed through its streets, homes were burned, and innocent citizens had no means of escape.

That gunfire echoes still.

Here’s the thing.  People are dying in Ukraine as hundreds of years of history are wiped out by bombs.  In the Gaza strip, innocent people, most of them young, are being slaughtered and, if not, they are being driven from their homes.  At times, it has become so overwhelming. I have no capacity left for tears, and I turn off the news and stop reading the paper.

But I cannot escape the tears here, because I am living the headlines.

My email inbox has first person accounts and images of the horrors happening to these townspeople.  I cannot unsee them.  I cannot stop thinking about the young teenage girl I met who did nails after school at a shop across the street from the center.  No one has heard from her.  I fear the worst as stories of kidnapping and violence that strain the human heart emerge.

And I think to myself…I have granddaughters her age.

And I weep.

It seems I cannot stop weeping these days, for the world, for the suffering, for the daily horrors in my own backyard.  I am no fun at social gatherings because this is my only topic of discussion with anyone who asks how I am doing.

I have lost my desire to lighten the mood.

I know as I write this,  violence continues to stalk the streets of this little burg.  But I keep going back to the pictures lovingly painted on the adobe walls of Casa de La Esperanza.  I keep going back to the flowers and books painted on the unfinished library walls that were to be a beacon of hope and promise.

I keep going back to the butterflies, symbols of transformation and renewal.

If my tears, if our tears, could alone stop the inhumanity present in the world around us, it would be over.  But in the midst of those tears, paralysis of grief is not the answer.  Trying to “fix” things by railing against the world is not the answer. Trying to “lighten the load” through distraction is not the answer.

What is then?

I don’t know.

But until I figure it out, I will tell the stories as they happen around me.  I will have you picture the old man, nearly crippled, being loving helped away from the violence and through the mountains on a rocky path to safety.  I will have you picture a mother and child fleeing violence in the night with nothing, especially not her child’s birth certificate, and then picture them separated and traumatized anew in the land that was to save them.

But mostly, I will have you picture a young girl who used to do nails after school, maybe the age of your daughter or granddaughter, who had not been heard from.

Her face haunts me before sleep and is there to wake me when I rise.

I pray for her.  I ask God to surround her with angel armies to protect her and the children like her all around the world.  I pray a cloud of butterflies to surround her dreams and give her hope.  And I pray for guidance to help me move beyond thoughts and prayers and into loving action on behalf of those who do not have a voice.

It seems so little.

But it is all I have.

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Nov 21, 2023

💔 Thank you, Char. It all feels so overwhelming, and there is an immediacy where you live. Viola Davis once said in a movie, "All you can do is all you can do". I tell myself that, and yet it doesn't seem enough.

Char Seawell
Char Seawell
Nov 25, 2023
Replying to

I love that quote. Going out with Dora to meet some of the families that are now here certainly helped a great deal...but then you see more need there and the wheels churn again. So much to contemplate. So much listening ahead.

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