This post comes on the heels of the tragic events earlier this week In Las Vegas. We offer these thoughts in solidarity with our grieving nation, and in honor of our Spartanburg community, the neighbors to which we most closely belong. There is no denying we live under the constant threat of violence, a darkness which can change our lives forever without notice. Late Sunday night, a landscape that was celebratory, creative, and fun was instantly disfigured into one of carnage, death, and fear. Terror Is its own particular brand of horror, causing pain indiscriminately and without warning. There will be much debate and discussion in the coming days and weeks about stemming the tide of violence, better safeguarding our public spaces, and how to best move forward. The conversations around these issues will be robust.

It would be easy to think we are too many miles from Las Vegas and too removed from the decision ­making process to make a difference, but just as individuals have the power to create great destruction, it is also individuals who have the ability to act with creativity, strength, and courage. Change begins deep inside each of us as we decide what forms our belonging will take. What does it look like to belong to ourselves and to each other? The quality of our presence impacts our families, workplaces, social groups, and even our time at the gym and the grocery store. Everything you do matters. Each day we choose to arise from bed, leave our homes and bravely enter this world of incredible opportunity and also great vulnerability. Do we begin each day with trusting and open hearts even in the face of great uncertainty and risk? Or will we allow violence and pain to shrivel our efforts and dim our imaginations? We counteract the violence around us not by fighting amongst ourselves or shouting the loudest, but by making life-giving choices, big and small, consistently and bravely.

The renowned poet Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote that the world will be saved by beauty. That might seem too abstract and impractical to be of much use, something only a poet would believe. I wonder though if anyone would be tempted to shoot and kill other humans if his/her life was full of the beauty of friendship, fresh lemons, clean air, the gift of wilderness and open spaces, a nearby garden, love and belonging, meaningful work, the soft fur of a pet, the companionship of great music, warm bread, and a few moments of connection with another imperfect but well-intentioned human. Are we building such beauty and civility into our life together? Are we creating a circle of goodwill large enough to embrace society’s difficulties with confidence in our collective wisdom? Are the structures of our life together gracious enough to include those who are vulnerable, struggling, and living at the margins, needing our attention and help? Suffering will find its way into each of our lives. This is simply part of our shared human experience. The way in which we bear our suffering and the wisdom and love that we continue to offer in the face of our struggles makes all the difference in whether we are a culture that supports and sustains life, or one that slowly creeps closer to destruction. Although our power may seem small in comparison to the global issues with which we grapple, let us treat ourselves and each other with dignity and true wisdom as we seek to serve the common good. May beauty and connection be our guide. Our commitment to beauty does not make us naive Pollyanna’s, or ostriches with our heads in the sand. The beauty that saves is both simple and fierce, ordinary and courageous. Such beauty enables us to walk upon this earth gently, as well-informed kings and queens serving each other with wisdom, responsibility, and goodwill. May we bring that commitment into each of our daily tasks, the reports we write, the meals we prepare, the celebrations we plan, the ways we rest, work, play and love. We do not deny pain, difficulty, and suffering, but we are simply unwilling to allow such realities to have the final word.

Everything you do matters. It is the quality of your presence that determines the quality of our collective life. May we daily serve each other as inspired and brave companions, seeking greater vitality for all.