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Orlando and the Mysterious Sacredness of the Other

Anadolu Agency

Anna O'Neil - published on 06/16/16

The tragedy of terror should at least teach us that "There are no mere mortals"

As a nine-year-old on a road trip, I used to watch the cars passing us, and think how each driver is coming from a place that only he knows, to a destination known only to himself. Maybe he is going to meet his grandson for the first time, or maybe just going home after a grueling day. Maybe he’s in love, or disappointed, or scared. Maybe he is a great saint, or needs prayers urgently. Whatever I imagined, I was acutely aware that each car held a person who was the center of his own world, who was living a whole life, a life other than mine, a life as important to him as mine was to me.

A quote from C.S. Lewis in “The Weight of Glory” reminded me of that little girl, her nose pressed up against the cold window. “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. … It is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit.”

I was, and am, awfully prone to scruples, so when I would begin to pray that God might bless the people passing in the cars, I felt that I had to pray for each driver individually, and would become daunted by the enormity of my task, by the sheer amount of hugely important lives and people who were passing by me. I didn’t remotely have the capacity to individually express my love for each one.

Now, hearing about the Orlando shooting, about the 50 dead, more who were wounded, and the many more who love the dead and wounded, I feel like the girl on the road again, watching the cars speed by, wanting, but lacking the capacity, to love all those people, whose lives I know nothing about. Though I am mourning and praying for all involved, there is still an undeniable disconnect. I want to cry for the victims as I would for my own family, but I can’t.

Well, it is natural for us to place our own life, its experiences and preoccupations, at the center of our universe, with others’ lives on the peripheries. We cannot feel the same grief that those close to the dead feel, not because of a lack of love on our part, but because we are only creatures, and such are our limitations.

Though I can mourn, I can only be in one car at a time, and live one life. But besides pray, and pray I must, there is still something I have to do. While I cannot be moved with the emotions I’d have for them if they were part of my own life, I still have a duty to them. I have to learn to remember the sacredness of each person I encounter. “There are no mere mortals.”

I want to tell that girl in the car that no, she cannot love each individual like she personally loves her parents. But if she does not forget this mysterious sacredness, then that will be loving the stranger who flashes by her window on the highway. I am limited in my love by my mind, which can only love what it knows, but holding in mind the preciousness of the human person, I know what is most important about him–that he is a child of God with an immortal soul and immeasurable dignity.

How can I love and honor the victims of the Orlando shooting, if not with my tears? By treating the strangers who pass into and out of my life with the respect and love that was owed to every person in that nightclub.

I don’t need to know the cashiers and telemarketers I speak with, the celebrities and criminals I read about, and the many nameless faces around me whose lives and loves are known only by God and themselves, in order to love them, for without knowing who they are, I can know what they are: not mere mortals, but men and women made in God’s own likeness, and loved by Him as His own children. Remembering this, I will be honoring the dead.

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