Thoughts on the latest terror attack

In this time of unrest, let us listen to these wise words from people from all over the world and all across time. Let us remember that we have a choice.

“Heracles was journeying on a narrow road when he saw what looked like an apple on the ground. When he stepped on it, the object instantly became twice as big. Seeing the extraordinary growth, Heracles stepped on it with both feet and smashed it mightily with his club. As result, the thing expanded so rapidly it blocked the road. Heracles threw down his club and stared at it dumbfounded.

The goddess Athena appeared to him then and said, “Dear brother, leave that thing alone! It is the spirit of argument and disharmony. If you keep from touching it, it can do no harm. But, as you have seen, if you try to fight, it only grows greater.” – Fable of Aesop.

“Rabbi Akiva traveled with a donkey to lighten his load, a rooster to awaken him at dawn, and an oil lamp to study by at night. He trusted in God and believed that all God does is for the good. One day, God made it that Rabbi Akiva arrived at a town after the gates have been closed, so he had to sleep outside in the dangerous woods. When he, at last, sat down to study by the light of his lamp, a great wind arose and blew it out. So, saying to himself “All is for the good,” he lay down to sleep, confident that the rooster would wake him early the next morning.

But then a fox came and carried the rooster away. Rabbi Akiva said, “This too will be for the good,” and with that fell asleep. In the middle of the night, a lion pounced on the donkey and devoured the animal before it made a sound. Rabbi Akiva mourned over the life of his donkey, but saying “Everything is surely for the good,” he found joy and comfort and returned to a deep sleep.

When Rabbi Akiva awoke in the morning, he saw that the town had been attacked and burned to the ground. “See,” he said, “all is truly for the good. If I had gained entry into the town, or if my lamp had remained bright, or if my rooster had crowed, or my donkey had brayed, these attackers who destroyed the town would have certainly come after me, too!” – Traditional Jewish story.

“Ambrosia can be extracted even from poison;
elegant speech even from a child;
good conduct even from an enemy;
gold even from impurity.”
-from the Laws of Manu (sacred text of Hinduism)

“How far that little candle throws his beams.
So shines a good deed in a naughty world.”
– William Shakespeare

“You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you, don’t resist an evildoer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. As for the one who wants to sue you and take away your shirt, let him have your coat as well. Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 5:38-40, HCSB translation)

“An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind”
– Gandhi biographer Louis Fischer, summing up Gandhi’s view on the Hindu concept of “ahimsa”

We have a choice now. We are at a crossroads. We can choose life or death. We can choose to be present and aware. We can choose to love our neighbors. We can choose to not be afraid. We can choose to rise above, rise together. We can choose. We are not powerless.

This isn’t about race or religion or creed, not anymore. This has happened too often, in too many different ways. There have been more mass killings in this world than we can easily count. It has become our normal, this terror, this fear. Some male takes a gun and kills many people, all strangers, in a moment.

In the same way that it has become our present normal, it can become our past. This does not have to continue. All things change.

In the meantime, we must remember that we have a choice to remain calm. To listen to the stranger. To be open and welcoming. To forgive. To show love and compassion. We must remember that there are far more kind, compassionate, and loving people than we realize. They don’t get the press attention so we don’t notice them. Start looking for the good, and you will find it all around you.

We must embrace the “other”, the different one, and include rather than exclude. This is a time to unite, not divide. I do not mean for “Us” to unite against “Them” – but to have a “We” instead.

We have a choice. It is time.

Attractive and repulsive

When we say someone or something is “attractive” or “repulsive”, it is in relation to another.

It is more than “pretty” or “ugly”. We could use those terms to explain this concept, but they aren’t as illustrative.

Think of magnets. If they are opposite polarity, they attract each other. If they are the same, they repel. But a magnet on its own is just a magnet. It isn’t attracting or repelling. So people who are “attractive” or “repulsive” are only so in relation to other people’s perspectives. On their own, they just are who they are.

It is “all in the eye of the beholder”.

Our value should not be dependent on other people giving it to us. If we are truly to be self-sufficient and have self-esteem, our value as people has to start with “self” and not “other”. We have to see ourselves as valuable.

I don’t think seeing ourselves as “beautiful” or “rich” or “smart” is helpful either. Those terms are still in relation to others. In the case of those terms, others are not defining us, but we are defining ourselves in relation to others.

Simply know that you are valuable and needed, just as you are.

The Tattoo’d lady

I have a lot of tattoos. I don’t have one little tattoo like a flower or a butterfly on my ankle. Fully half of my left calf is inked. It is impossible to miss when I wear shorts or a short dress. Half of my right shoulder is inked too, but that is only visible when I am at water aerobics. I rarely wear short sleeve shirts, but that was true even before I got tattoos.

The most interesting thing to me is that people will often say that I don’t look like someone who has tattoos. Oddly, that is in part a reason why I have so many tattoos. Sure, I have the tattoos I have because they are meaningful to me, but I also have them because I think it is important to shake up people’s expectations.

So many people don’t really think about anything, it seems. They have their patterns and their expectations, and they are happy to live with them. When they apply “the usual” pattern to a situation or a person, they stop seeing things as they are.

They start seeing things as they think they are.

They stop seeing at all.

I have tattoos as reminders. I have tattoos as goals. They are milestones and markers, of achievements I have made, yet also of aspirations I have.

They function as a sort of Rorschach test too. If people are brave enough to ask me about them, then I ask them which one caught their eye. Then I tell them the story that goes along with that tattoo. It turns out that is the story that they need to hear that day to learn something.

I expose myself when I tell these stories. I may let people know that I am bipolar and have been in a mental hospital twice. I may let people know that God has revealed himself to me.

Are these two things connected? Perhaps.

Sometimes my tattoos create a bridge, and sometimes they create a wall. I’m ok with either. I’m ok with anything that gets people to engage, to wake up, to notice. I’m ok with anything that shakes people out of their complacency and makes them think.

Sometimes this means people are against me from the beginning, because I have marked myself as “other”. I am one of “those people”. But then they look at my smile, and how I am dressed, and where I am and they start to wonder. Their hard expectations of who I must be start to wobble a bit.

When people decide that I’m not like them because of how I am marked, it says more about them than it does about me. This too is useful for me.

In the most literal way I am “colored”. I do feel “other”, an outcast, a minority. I have chosen to highlight it rather than hide it. I have chosen to express on my outside how I feel on my inside.

I don’t show my tattoos all the time, however. There are some situations where it is important to keep a low profile. There are some situations where discretion and decorum are an advantage. But there are others where I have revealed myself to be “in” by showing my tattoos.

Small-town Southerners are generally not welcoming of tattoos. I often get open stares in rural areas, you know, the ones where everybody is the same color and a member of the same faith.

In college towns or towns where there is a diversity of cultures and views my tattoos are often admired.

So, in a way, my tattoos are also like a barometer or a thermometer. They tell me a lot about the local culture.