By the time you read this column, there will no doubt be some new President Donald Trump tweet or utterance -- on record or leaked -- that will have the media and country aghast at the demons exposed by it. People not typically defending Trump may find themselves doing so simply because they don’t think the latest is definitive proof that he’s Hitler. I’m far from the first to observe that elements of our country appear to be watching a reality TV show with rapt attention. Time and emotions are invested in it. But what gets overlooked in the meantime?
With everyone talking about the latest expletive the president reportedly used in a closed-door meeting with lawmakers, I couldn’t help but think about Haiti, one of the countries on his leaked list of undesirables. There’s a beautiful nurse I know who has gone there in the years since the big earthquake to help in a hospital for some of the poorest and otherwise most forgotten. Sometime in the last few years of doing this, she broke her leg. She’s giving time and resources -- even risking her safety -- to people she wouldn’t be thinking about if she were simply cursing the darkness or thinking “poor dears” in the wake of earthquakes and other disasters.
I thought, too, of the Knights of Columbus, who I am endlessly grateful for. Many may have such feelings for the fraternal social fellowship network, but we should remember that the Knights rush to the scene of disasters and provide quiet support -- from ultrasounds and coats to infrastructure and schools and hospitals -- in communities around the country and world.
As social media and news networks seemed to revel in the ability to use an expletive with abandon, I kept thinking of a story about Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. He, too, went down to Haiti after the earthquake in 2010. And he asked: “Is there anything I can do for you?” Foremost in some minds was Mass. The Haitians had lost priests and bishops, the next day was Sunday and they wanted Mass. They wanted God. Which means they had hope. Hope in the midst of devastation. Hope in the midst of death and debris.
The same day that America was abuzz with reports of the president’s profane remarks, a report was released that found that life expectancy in the United States had dropped for the second year in a row. Addiction and suicide are some significant factors. Right here at home, people are living in what seems to them an impenetrable darkness. There is a world of people in pain -- some of them right next door to us, right across the way. When we plug ourselves into the unending reality TV show, we miss them. We close ourselves off to the possibility of hearing their cries. We also deprive ourselves of the opportunity of encountering hope.
More often than not, when we think we’re reaching out to help someone, they wind up ministering to us. I often think of Christians in Iraq and Syria, who overflow with gratitude simply for being alive with their families, in whatever makeshift home they’ve found. Their close encounter with genocide has been an opportunity for them to prioritize their faith -- or so they so often tell the story. Death is a certainty, and hope is the only thing that gives us an understanding of what this is all for.
The morning after the President's remark, Pope Francis tweeted: “The encounter with God and our brothers and sisters cannot wait just because we are slow or lazy. We are called to that encounter today!” Whatever the pope makes headlines for, he’s always nudging us to the best part of ourselves. If you find yourself outraged by Trump -- or Hollywood, or politicians, or whatever else the anger machine of social media generates -- don’t sit there, don’t stew or get into online arguments about it. Instead, do something good in the world. The world could use it. And you might even encounter some hope along the way.