A Million Ways to Measure Your Worth
by Nicole Watts
There’s a million ways to justify your fear.
There’s a million ways to measure out your worth.
But the body of a boy being laid upon the sand,
Tell me how do you live with that?
- Missy Higgins
Hope. It’s addicting to watch it blossom in someone’s eyes for the first time in years. Consuming one’s self with it tends to bring a greater sustainability in our work, lightening the burdens borne.
I am so grateful for hope. It is more important than my morning coffee, funding, manpower or anything else that makes the vision of Hopeprint we have set our hands to possible. Embodied in my personal hope is also faith, that power far beyond what I can bring and love beyond what I can offer will somehow emerge. It is the belief that Justice will one day redeem utter brokenness.
Yet I find this nasty side affect of what such a hope consumption can lead to. It’s a side effect of nearly constant exposure to trauma. It’s the same thing that I do when I get sick and have a ton on my plate. It could go by many names and in many forms. I will call it self-medication. My body screams at me with aches, pains, fevers, sore throats, exhaustion, and I search my medicine cabinet for the anecdote. After all, to feel pain, to sit in it, feels wasteful of a day. To sit in the pain of the world, how much more?
Pain is sometimes overwhelming. The most recent chemical attack in Syria, that directed national attention back to the cradle of civilization, killed more than 70 people. A person with a videocamera in that horrifying space captured children gasping for breath, it made its way to our screens and we gagged, wept or turned our heads.
For those of us who break bread with Syrian families, we have seen the ravages of war on the television screens of our friends' homes day in and day out for the last few years. Over the course of six years (2,190+ days), Syria has seen the death toll of civilians rise over 207,000. That is an average of 94 people a day. When a photographer captures a powerful photo of one of the dozens of children that have washed up dead on the shore of Greece, or we hear a child gasping for air, our personal and national conscience seems to awaken. But what of the days when the photographer wasn’t there?
Photojournalist Brian Anthony shared some of these images with me of Syria now, telling stories he has encountered on the streets. He told the story of a man who is camped on the shores of Greece, on land he purchased to bury the dead children that wash up on the shore, seeking to bring them dignity in those grievous final moments for their families. As the wind blows, the boats come, day after day.
There’s a million ways to measure out your worth…
I have never had the privilege of sitting at the feet of one of our newly arrived families, hearing their stories, and not walked away marked. I carry the mud between my toes and dampness of monsoon rains from that Thai/Burma border town ever in my mind; snapshots of the armed soldiers on the border staring at me menacingly across the small river. I can still feel the tightening of my chest as I slept in the concrete hotel in the Somali Region, one of four Westerners for a day's drive in a region ripe with anti-Western extremists. The sweat that dried before it had a chance to form in the 120+ degree heat of a South Sudanese desert, as we pulled up to the food ration outpost and single water well for a bustling village. Watching the news reports as less than a year later, the villages where I sat with mamas and babies at the clinic fled in the ravages of civil war yet again.
Life and our world is full of literally too much pain to take in. We live actively aware of it more poignantly than ever before in human history, and if you’re anything like a normal person, when it strikes you, you find yourself at a complete loss. To know makes us feel entrusted, required of a response. So sometimes we act, at times with abandon, and throw our weight behind an issue or a crisis. It takes our whole selves, maxes out our network, we burn out and feel the need to return to our former ways to heal. Our battle against injustice goes in fits and bursts.
So how do we respond then? I submit that the very premise of the question is part of our issue. We are responders. What if we, instead, lived and breathed love, as if it were truly the essence of our entire lives? What if we let ourselves gag and weep at the videos, as we are simultanouesly deeply aware that such tragedy is just one day in a nation that has experienced horrors upon horrors nearly every day for six years? And live cognizant, prayerful and engaged with the dozens of other nations whose conflicts don't even make our headlines? What if we allowed those we have entrusted with our national safety and security to do their jobs, and we released that fear and corresponding focus and replaced it with an obsession to love amidst and beyond our borders?
There’s a million ways to measure out your worth…
This kind of life is one that changes the question. It goes from what do I (who has much) do for those (who have little)? And it changes to what do we (who are all human together, of equal worth and value) do to be a kindred people that cling to hope, bear out love and fight for justice every day of our lives? That is not a rhetorical question. Please, I beg of you, answer it. Then, if you have not already, begin the journey of living it.
I challenge you to keep one of these images on your screen this week, and each time you see it, lean into this question. Let it make you weep, let it soften your heart, let it awaken your kindred humanity and let it birth within you a beckoning to listen, to be with and to act in love. For those of us who are Jewish and Christians celebrating holy days this week, consider how the faith which you proclaim, and the God who you serve, is calling you to this unconventional life.
Hope that is born out of this gritty, listening, sacrificial love is the beautiful. The one where our worth is measured together.
MANY THANKS to Brian Anthony for sharing these powerful photos with me, along with the stories and lives they are connected to. Grateful for the beginning of this partnership and for your work to tell the stories too easily overlooked.