by Mariah Martin
On cross-cultural this semester, I rode a camel through the Negev desert. I hiked the Jesus Trail. I saw Petra, the Roman Coliseum, and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I got a piercing in Istanbul, and ate a gyro in Athens.
But the incredible sights are not what I wrestle to hold as I surf my newsfeed or hear prayer requests in church.
I wrestle with empathy.
Empathy is good, right?
But after my cross-cultural trip, everything is amplified. Articles about women suffering at the hands of ISIS, prayer requests for relatives in chemotherapy, the tears of Israelis and Palestinians as they clash once again.
There is so much pain.
I can’t turn it down.
I can’t fly in and talk to ISIS fighters, I can re-humanize neither the terrorizers nor the terrorized.
I can’t stop the child before he falls into the still-hot coals. I can’t make chemotherapy work. I can’t heal the scars that leave a woman missing parts of herself.
I can’t hold the hand of every child, shielding them from tear gas and full-body searches by soldiers. I can’t erase the PTSD of an entire nation.
No, I’m just a college kid, wrestling through a nursing degree, a few gas tanks from flat broke. I don’t know how to help.
All I can do is feel the pain.
So how do I hold this empathy, this ache? How do I not sidestep pain, while also not becoming paralyzed by it?
I don’t know.
So I talk.
I tell the stories that were told to me with pleading eyes and tear-stained hearts. I describe the crushing beauty of a 26-foot concrete wall covered in graffiti. I write poems about a town emptied in a population exchange because those families didn’t call God by the right name.
To the fears of a woman who feels she lives a double life: in one life going to work and cooking in a whimsical fashion that never quite follows the recipe, and in the other spending her day being passed from one office to another and put through an alphabet soup of medical tests.
For every crushed dream, every shaken life, every beautiful thing shattered by nameless, purposeless, inexplicable brokenness.
And I wait.
For the light, because darkness can only last so long. For change, because I know too many exquisite souls bent on doing good. For opportunity, because some day I will have the knowledge and the resources to do more than cry. For heaven on earth, because our Savior lived in times much worse than this and still brought us a greater hope than we could ever imagine.
Everything is amplified. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be turned into music.
Mariah Martin is a nursing student at Eastern Mennonite University and attends Marion Mennonite Church. The following is her reflection on her cross-cultural experience in Israel and Palestine.
Used by permission from The Burning Bush, Franklin Conference newsletter.