The senior screamed, “I will grind him into the dust of the earth.” He pointed to the blackboard behind me as he continued, “And don’t give me any mushy stuff about those Italian counts choosing life over their assigned revenge killings!” The board held that day’s prayer reflection quote: “Character is what a man does when he thinks he can get away with it.”
I asked what his friend had done. He replied, “Former friend. He betrayed me. I will never forgive him.” I reminded him that Jesus had asked us to love our enemies (Lk 27:6). He replied, “Yeah but, .…” A while later he finished with, “Jesus should watch a little more TV. Then, Jesus would know the ways of the world.” His anger abated, he giggled.
I gently shared that difficult situations like that required each of us to prayerfully find the balance between the responsibility to work for justice, but to leave vengeance to God. Sometimes strength was found in the victory for justice. Sometimes though, strength was found in stepping away. Jesus’ words on love your enemies were as shocking to people 2,000 years ago as we found them today. The world labeled early Christian communities as those “ADJECTIVE” people who loved their enemies. To many, the adjective was “crazy.” Those who had experienced God’s love in loving one’s enemies were those who knew the correct adjective was “wise.” Perhaps before rejecting the idea, he could give a little thought to the fact that an idea so difficult to mankind had never died out.
In 2022, that student’s, “Yeah but…” resonates deeply with me. A vicious cyber-attack stole my emails, devices, and Apple ID. For two-plus months, as I sought to rebuild, the hacker repeatedly knocked me down. In my grief, I could not shake my personal failure to live up to my classroom mantra: Real men and women build something that lasts long after they are gone. The hacker crushed into oblivion the materials I had wished to bring to fellow educators. My entire academic life is now inaccessible to me. Gratitude the attack wasn’t worse lessened but did not remove the pain. I tried to pray for my enemies. The words were there, but my heart was not in it. A priest I spoke with gently reminded me that wasn’t good enough.
I think my Guardian Angel is correct about the fact that I sometimes need a visual and dramatic wake up call. Sister Joan Chittister reminds us that “Humility makes listeners of us. And in listening to everything that happens to us, we find God’s word for us.” God had a few gentle whispers for me.
With no work, no Internet, and no TV, the cabin fever was intense. I went out to purchase some books on CD. With “Eagles Wings” playing in the background, I asked God which way to go at one turn. The answer was, “Go left. R.I. is a small state. All roads lead to the destination.” The sun broke free from the clouds as Crawford sang, “You need not fear the terror of the night nor the arrow that flies by day.” I told God I wished to find the courage to again live in the world with no fear. I drove along picturesque back roads with absolutely no idea where I was. I simply leaned in to God’s love and peace.
As beautiful as the afternoon was, I eventually grew tired. I told God I was alone and lost. Before I even reached the end of the thought, there was a bend in the road. Crawford sang, “Hold you in the palm of His hands.” Before me was Sakonnet Point! I parked. My brain said, “Across the water is the store with the CDs.” My heart said, “Do you not yet understand that isn’t the point? And chill on the phytoplankton and whales reminisces.”
To me, walking in nature has always been a Sacred space for conversation with God. That day, the wind chill and the ice on the rocks kept me in my car. But, I told God I understood. The hacker had done everything he could to isolate and crush me. I had known the fear of feeling defenseless standing before a superior enemy. But, I’d never been and would never be alone. God and His conduits of love would surround me at all times. Even better, no matter where I landed, God had a road map for moving forward.
With the PTSD brought on by the very personal and very drawn out attack, falling asleep was difficult. One night, instead of grief at its loss, my mind replayed the story of one photo. The picture is an ugly, amorphous brown blob. The memory is of a young adolescent and I each with our hand on the meteor. He grinned and said “It feels like iron.” I grinned and said, “That iron came to earth four billion years ago!” Reaching out to enrich students’ lives was where I was called to make a difference. That day, in the deepest fiber of my being, I knew the joy of being right where I had been called to serve. I told the hacker I had the better part of it. I got to experience then treasure all the priceless memories.
OK Lord, I am beginning to understand. You have the road map. You set the time for everything. Again, I replayed the boy leaving the meteor. He turned back to smile and thank me before happily running off. Lord, I realize I need to be more like that child. I need to find the courage to simply move on. I am ready to continue my worldly wanderings. Today, I better understand how praying for one’s enemies allows one to step away from their evil influence. I am not at all sure where I am headed in a world (for now) bereft of personal Internet. But, I remember and believe what Sister Claire had expressed as You’re writing straight with crooked lines. That is, regardless of the evil intent of any humans, You can bring forth good. I will take the next step trusting in Your Providence.
Anchor columnist Dr. Helen J. Flavin, Ph.D., is a Catholic scientist, educator and writer.