This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Remove your glasses

“Remove your glasses and throw them there. They are the reason you are going to die.”

People often told me that I look sophisticated in my plain-frame glasses. Sometimes I blushed when they told me that—but mostly I relished how good that made me feel inside.

But now, I cry.

I wore my glasses so that I could see the delight in my grandchildren’s eyes when I gave them a treat and a hug—I loved to see their smiles.

I wore my glasses to see more clearly the compassion and care in the faces of my children when they came to see me.

I wore my glasses to behold the look of love in my beloved’s face when words were redundant and silence prevailed.

These things I now removed from my face helped me to see more fully the love and the beauty in this world—and now for them I die.

Perhaps, for this moment, it’s better this way, I think, as I stumble to discard my glasses on the pile made by others whose world ended in a blur:
Better that I not see the malevolent evil in the eyes of those who exult in seeing suffering and pain inflicted on those they choose to hate.

Better that I not see my children’s brains splattered as they are dashed against a tree.

Better that I see only migrating shadows and not countenance the anguish, the fear, and the terror in the faces of millions of my fellow glass-wearers, teachers and professionals as they stagger toward the open pits that will become their graves.

Better that I cannot see the sharp edge of a machete that momentarily will cleave my skull before it, too, like that of so many others will build a tower to hate, violence and insanity.

As I begin the final stumble through the haze of madness before the enveloping darkness of the end, I look down through the decades and years ahead, and I shudder, for I see what I hope were never as clear—the hurt, the hate and the maiming continue.

… even on this day so many years later, in the shade of the tree where the rain-washed mud exposes bone and teeth, the impulses toward genocide erupt again in another ugly massacre—this time in a church, beneath the shadow of the cross.

Today, the screams of terror from these Killing Fields are joined by the cries of lament from those who are left behind in Charleston.

Will this madness never end? Will the hurting and the hatred ever cease?

Wait, what is that I hear borne on the wind that ripples through these trees whose leaves absorbed the screams of the dying here at Cheoung Ek? I hear the voices of those from Mother Emmanuel as they echo the words spoken by God’s Emmanuel whose body was broken and flesh flayed before death overcame him: “I forgive, we forgive, may God have mercy on your soul.”

How is this possible in the face of such great evil and wounding?

Will such words only exacerbate the insult? And yet, and yet, is there any other way? We must forgive, the people of Mother Emmanuel say, and we must work for the day when we need not speak these words ever again—I realize then that we must hasten the day when instead of “I forgive you,” we are able to say to each other, “I give you sight … eyes to see the vision of a world healed and made whole … I give you life.”

Drawn back to this field, I wipe away the sweat and dry the salty tears; I put my glasses back on my face.

Clearly now, I see the flowers in fresh bloom; I see the birds that are singing in the trees; and I see the beauty in the progeny of those who survived Pol Pot’s fields of death and destruction

Today, I want to give Dylan glasses.

I want to share my glasses with every person so that together we will see more clearly the beauty, the love and the hope that remains when the hatred is banished, when wounding is exorcised and the wailing is stilled.

(On the day that Dylan Roof killed nine black parishioners of Mother Emmanuel AME Church, Ursula and I visited Choeung Ek, the site of a former orchard and mass grave of victims of the Khmer Rouge—killed between 1975 and 1979—about 11 miles south of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Choeung Ek is the best known of the sites known as the Killing Fields where the Khmer Rouge regime executed more than one million people between 1975 and 1979. Mass graves containing 8,895 bodies were discovered at Choeung Ek after the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime. Many of those killed were teachers, professionals, or wore glasses.)

Stanley W. Green, executive director for Mennonite Mission NetworkStanley Green is executive director Mennonite Mission Network.

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