One of the pleasures of being 50 is looking back and realizing you are not who you used to be.
When I was younger, I am ashamed to say, I was greedy for information on the rich, the powerful, or celebrities, even people I knew, but did not consider “friends”, particularly the things that would embarrass or humiliate them. I enjoyed the feeling of superiority it gave me when one of them had a public fall, or was revealed to be an alcoholic, druggie, or had serious relationship problems. It was a blood-sport, like the Roman Coliseum, and I was one of a large crowd, hungering and thirsting for blood. I told you, I’m ashamed.
Now I see these as people, and I turn away from the public airing of their suffering, their pathos. How can I judge these people? Why did I feed on their sadness and misery? Where once I couldn’t look away, now I can’t look away fast enough. I recognize the lust for this as a parasitic animal. I drank in their pain.
Now I can clearly see that this is akin to the rapaciousness of the crowds attending lynchings in the Jim Crow South, to hangings, to the Salem Witch Trials, blood sports all–even akin to guards at the concentration camps making sport of the torture of their captives. These things cannot happen when we see others as people made in the image and likeness of God, and as beloved of God. If I see people this way, the rejoicing in their suffering becomes anathema to me. And in seeing people this way, it changes me too. I become more human.
Did you know that they used to paint the sand in the Coliseum red to hide the amount of blood pouring from the victims there? I have to wonder how much blood has been spilled on my behalf. How many actresses have cried themselves to sleep to see their weaknesses displayed on screen and in the checkout aisle for the entertainment of the likes of me? How many have read cutting comments about their weight, their choices, their morals? How many have their bodies used to shame them to try to keep up with some impossible and outrageous ideal of perfection? How many have been pushed to fix noses that aren’t broken, to flatten the smallest curves, to try to look youthful only to be mocked for their efforts? Have these women push themselves to excessive amounts of exercise to appear that they never had a child, never ate a piece of bread, or more, just to please the fickle public? Have I painted the ground red so that I won’t have to see their suffering?
I still have moments, I’m sorry to say, where I forget to see the spark of the divine in others, where I forget to see them with love and compassion. Old habits die hard. But now, before clicking on that news story, or planning to watch the interview with the latest celebrity in crisis, I hesitate and recognize that blood-lust in my own spirit as vile and distasteful. Thanks be to God! “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” (Romans 7:18 ESV. )
It is only by the grace of God that I am able to see this as sin, to recognize the disease, and to receive the cure. For that I am profoundly grateful.