July 3, 2020

Reflection / John Shaughnessy

The breath of life that all Americans share

John ShaughnessyAs the gym pulsed with tension and passion in the closing seconds of a one-point game, the two women stood side by side, yelling and praying for their basketball team to make one last defensive stop to seal the win.

When the game ended—with their pleas and their prayers answered—the two women hugged. And as the gym slowly emptied, they sat together, continuing a 30-year-long conversation about their children, their grandchildren and life, a conversation that began when their first-born sons became fast friends in a Catholic grade school.

In today’s simmering social climate in our country, perhaps it should be noted that one of the women is black and the other is white. Still, they see each other more deeply through their bonds as wives, mothers, grandmothers, Catholics and friends who would be there for each other in a heartbeat.

Their friendship was the first one I thought of when I recently came across these words from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “I am convinced that men hate each other because they fear each other. They fear each other because they don’t know each other, and they don’t know each other because they don’t communicate with each other, and they don’t communicate with each other because they are separated from each other.”

These two women know each other—including having talks about racial issues—because they have always focused on the bonds that connect them. They are women whose children have continued as friends, women who embrace each other’s children and grandchildren with love.

As we celebrate our country on this Fourth of July weekend, we also need to celebrate these kinds of relationships—and seek them even more in our lives. That’s especially true during this time when many people are still separated from each other, a time when many people from different backgrounds have also come together in the hope of a more united and just America.

Another example of that hope shined through on June 22 when NASCAR drivers showed their support for Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr., the only driver who is black in the racing series.

After a noose was found in Wallace’s garage, the other drivers united behind him, helping to push his car to the starting line of the GEICO 500 in Talladega, Ala. And while an FBI investigation determined that the noose wasn’t intended for Wallace, the display of unity for him endures. So do the words of the winner of that race, Ryan Blaney.

“He’s really strong,” Blaney said about Wallace after the race. “I wanted to show my support for my best friend. He’s just been someone I’ve really, really loved for a long time, and I’m gonna support him 100 percent along the way for many years to come. I hope a lot of people will look at that and learn from everyone coming together and supporting each other. That’s what it’s gonna take to make things better.”

At the same time, there’s another essential element needed for change at this point in our country’s history. It’s a necessity shared by Daelin Hayes, a student-athlete on the football team at the University of Notre Dame. Hayes believes change will come when people use the gifts God has given them to help shape a world where we recognize God’s presence in each other.

Hayes shared that belief in an impassioned talk he gave during a peaceful, prayer-filled walk and rally on Notre Dame’s campus on June 19. The rally was in celebration of Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in America 155 years ago.

“Not only does [God] breathe life into us, he breathes gifts into each and every one of us, and each of those gifts are designed to be used to manifest and grow the kingdom of God,” Hayes said. “And it means absolutely nothing to have those gifts breathed into you for you to hold your breath and not exhale them into the world.

“My challenge to you: Continue to exhale your time, your resources, your love, your empathy, your compassion. … Imagine if we use this time, this platform, these resources—and aimed them at creating a more equal and unified community. Imagine where we’d be.”

One of the truths of life is that we can never completely understand the realities that another person—or people of another race—has to face.

Yet, another truth is that we can walk alongside another person as a friend—sharing the journey toward God, who has breathed life into all of us.

(John Shaughnessy is the assistant editor of The Criterion and the author of Then Something Wondrous Happened: Unlikely encounters and unexpected graces in search of a friendship with God.)

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