By the time you read this column, there will no doubt be some new President Donald J. Trump tweet or utterance — on-the-record or leaked — that will have the media and country debating all atwitter which one or another of his demons it exposes. People not typically prone to defend Trump may find themselves doing so simply because they don’t think the latest is definitive proof that he’s Hitler. I’m far from the first to observe that elements of our country appear to be watching a reality-TV show with rapt attention. Time and emotions are invested in it. But what gets overlooked in the meantime?
A few days ago, when everywhere you turned someone was talking about the expletive the president reportedly used in a closed-door meeting with lawmakers, I couldn’t help but think about Haiti, one of the countries on Trump’s leaked list of undesirables. There’s a beautiful nurse (though that’s somewhat redundant when talking about that loving vocation) I know who gets herself down there in the years since the big earthquake to help with a hospital for some of the poorest and otherwise most forgotten. Sometime in the last few years of doing this, she broke her leg along the way. She’s giving time and resources — even risking her safety, it’s not the safest of areas, as I understand — to people she wouldn’t be thinking about if she were simply cursing the darkness or thinking “poor dears” in the wake of earthquakes and other disasters.
I thought, too, of the Knights of Columbus, who I am endlessly grateful for. Many may have warmish feelings about the Knights as a fraternal social-fellowship network but they also rush to the scene of disasters at home and abroad and provide quite a lot of support — from ultrasounds and coats to infrastructure and schools and hospitals — in communities around the country and the world.
As social media and news networks seemed to revel in the ability to use an expletive with abandon, I kept thinking, too, of a story Cardinal Timothy Dolan in New York often tells. He, too, went down to Haiti after the earthquake in 2010. And he asked, as he would: “Is there anything I can do for you?” Foremost in some minds was Mass. They had lost priests and bishops, and the next day was Sunday and they wanted Mass. They wanted God. Which means, they had hope. Hope in the midst of devastation. Hope in the midst of death and debris.
The same day that the nation seemed abuzz with reports of the president’s remark, a report had been issued that our life expectancies in the United States have dropped for a second year in a row. Addiction and suicide are some significant factors in the news. Right here at home, people are living in what seems to them to be an impenetrable darkness. There is a world of people in pain — some of them quietly right next door to us, right across the way. When we plug ourselves into the unending reality-TV show, we miss them. We close ourselves off to the possibility of hearing their cries. We also deprive ourselves of the opportunity of encountering hope.
More often than not, when we think that we’re reaching out to help someone, they wind up ministering to us. I often think of Christians in Iraq and Syria, who overflow with gratitude simply for being alive with their families, in whatever makeshift home they’ve found. Their close encounter with genocide has been an opportunity for them to prioritize their faith — or so they so often tell the story. Death is a certainty, and hope is the only thing that gives us an understanding of what this is all for.
The morning after the S-word incident, Pope Francis tweeted:
The encounter with God and our brothers and sisters cannot wait just because we are slow or lazy. We are called to that encounter today!
Whatever he makes headlines for, he’s a continual nudge, in the best of spiritual fatherly ways. And so it was, seemingly perfectly timed for our news cycle (and it works for Americans who tend to think the world revolves around them anyway!). If you find yourself outraged by a Trump — or a Hollywood, or a congressional word or action – don’t just sit there, don’t stew or Instagram your statement about it: Do something good in the world. The world could use it. And you might even encounter some hope along the way.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and an editor-at-large of National Review. Sign up for her weekly NRI newsletter here. This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.