I don’t often write in response to tragic events happening on the world stage. I am all too aware how small I am in comparison, how limited my knowledge, how distant from the actual suffering of the victims and their families. But I also frequently get asked,
“What do you think?”
“How are you seeing this?”
“Give me something but anger to hold on to.”
So for what it’s worth, this is how I am holding these most recent tragic events in my heart.
I don’t know exactly what the just, or appropriate response is to those attacks, or to the people and organizations that perpetrated them. I don’t know what you or I, as individuals sitting across the globe, can actually do to stop the violence of ISIS, Al-Shabaab, or other Islamic militants. I only know what I can do to stop the violence here, in my own body, my own home and among the people I come into contact with. And I actually think that is a really important place to start, which too often gets ignored in our desire for immediate answers and concrete action.
I begin by reminding myself that none of these angry, violent, suicidal and psychopathic men started out that way. At one time, they were just little boys like our own, who loved to crawl into their mama’s laps and be cuddled. They passed out, milk-drunk, at their mother’s breast, while she dreamed of all that he might be someday. At one point, I imagine, those boys had dreams of their own, to be helpers, teachers, leaders, fathers even, but that all changed.
And it probably changed at home first with the messages they learned from their very own fathers and mothers. Eventually those messages were built upon by their religious leaders, their surroundings, culture and the world around them. They learned that a loving response was a foolish one, that whoever had the biggest guns had the most power, that economic freedom was never going to be theirs. They learned that violence was the best answer to every problem and that their God approved and applauded it. This is not what they were born knowing; this is what they were taught and so it is my obligation to teach my own son and daughters something different, but I have to live it myself first.
After hearing about the attacks in Paris and Beirut, I immediately thought of the words of Etty Hillesum, a young Jewish woman who was killed during the Holocaust. She wrote: “Each of us moves things along in the direction of war every time we fail to love.”
Oh my God, I thought, I’m part of the problem, but Etty’s words also remind me that I can be part of the solution. I can start by making conscious choices to Love more, to stop making war inside my own heart, judging, criticizing and condemning myself and others for simply being human and imperfect. Whatever peace I create from that Love, I must bring to my own family and friends, primarily through kindness and compassion. And if I can Love just a little more, I can hold even more space for difference, and diversity among the people I know and come into contact with.
But let me be clear, when I find myself in conflict with others, I do not have to agree; I do not have to approve; I don’t even have to allow, or excuse behavior that I object to, but what I cannot do is hate. I believe Einstein’s observation that “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” I have seen that play out in my own life. I cannot offer the same, or equal response to violent, or aggressive stimuli and expect a good outcome. Even if I “win,” we both lose in the long run and believe me, I’ve lost plenty of times!
Finally, as someone who has considered the teachings of Jesus her whole life, there is one thing he said we CANNOT do. We cannot hate the other. Jesus said, “Love God and Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus also said, “Love your enemies” and he made it clear that your enemy was often your neighbor, just in case you wanted to skip that one.
I don’t have it in me to Love God, my neighbor, my enemy, or even myself in the way I must in order to create perfect peace, but that doesn’t mean I can give up trying. I must persevere, at least in my own heart. One woman, when asked about the futility of her quest for justice and equality for women within her community, said, “I don’t have to complete the work, but that does not mean I am free to abandon it.”
Amen, sister. Thanks for the reminder.