“How should we live?”

These past seven days have been for most disturbing and shattering. You, like me, have watched in disbelief at the chaos and tragedy of Kabul and the whole of Afghanistan. It is not my place to offer answers, or “I told you so” but sadly it is my place, and yours, to feel some of this pain and to attempt to grasp the fear of so many and to do something about it! I turn once again to the poet Wislawa Szymborska. It was said of her back in 1996 when she received the Nobel laureate in Literature that she was the least prolific major poet of our time. She did not write an abundance of poems yet every poem she did write mattered deeply to her. Her art was not in making statements but in asking questions, the most pressing questions, as she does in the poem below. Although written as the 20th century was closing, her words are as poignant today as they were when she first wrote them. I ask you to take your time in reading this poem, there is no hurry. Ponder the pain of her lines as you reflect on the pain of these tragic days. The poem speaks, even if it’s in a whisper, of a resolve to do better.

The Century’s Decline
Our twentieth century was going to improve on the others.
It will never prove it now,
now that its years are numbered,
its gait is shaky,
its breath is short.

Too many things have happened
that weren’t supposed to happen,
and what was supposed to come about
has not.

Happiness and spring, among other things,
were supposed to be getting closer.

Fear was expected to leave the mountains and the valleys.
Truth was supposed to hit home
before a lie.

A couple of problems weren’t going
to come up anymore:
hunger, for example,
and war, and so forth.

There was going to be respect
for helpless people’s helplessness,
trust, that kind of stuff.

Anyone who planned to enjoy the world
is now faced
with a hopeless task.

Stupidity isn’t funny.
Wisdom isn’t gay.
isn’t that young girl anymore,
et cetera, alas.

God was finally going to believe
in a man both good and strong,
but good and strong
are still two different men.

“How should we live?” someone asked me in a letter.
I had meant to ask him
the same question.

Again, and as ever,
as may be seen above,
the most pressing questions
are naïve ones. Wislawa Szymborska

Lord God hear my prayer
for those who seem to be without hope.
Give courage to weakened souls,
comfort the distressed and the fearful.
May harm be kept at a distance.
Hear my prayer,
for those who feel dispossessed,
for all who feel they are the least and the forgotten.
Loving God,
enable good to be done, love to be shared, and
may hope be a companion to those fearful of their next step.
We pray for all who are seeking to make a difference for good.
Forgive our political point scoring,
forgive our pointing finger.
Let us somehow discover what it is
to be both good and strong for our neighbors’ sake
and for the sake of our world. Amen.

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