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.

A conversation at the YMCA

I was in the changing room at the Y when I heard the most amazing thing. This lady who I’ve known for a few years through my water aerobics class asked me what I thought about “The Trump thing”. She actually didn’t even give me time to give an answer. She started saying that “He has a point, that all the terrorist attacks were being done by Muslims and so it was a good idea to keep them out of this country.” She even said that she had some Muslim friends but she still thought that it was a good idea.

I paused and looked at her and shook my head a little. I said “I can’t believe that you’re actually saying this. I can’t agree with you at all.”

She said “What? All the terrorist acts have been done by Muslims.”

I said
“What about Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, the Columbine murderers?
What about Timothy McVeigh, who blew up the Murrah federal building?
What about James Holmes, the Aurora theater shooter?
What about Sandy Hook massacre, by Adam Lanza?

These are all acts of terrorism
that have been perpetrated
by young white males.
They weren’t Muslim.”

Sadly, the list is much longer than these that I could recall off the top of my head, with all of them committed by young, white, males.

I then quoted this famous speech from Martin Niemöller, speaking about how the German people didn’t stand up against the Nazis during World War 2.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

I said “I can’t stand behind this entire idea of keeping people out based on their ethnicity. That’s racist.”

I repeated the word “racist” several times through the last part of my discussion. I wanted her to hear it for what it is. I wanted her to think about her support of something that is as dangerous, as un-Christian, as inhuman as racism. I’m sure she didn’t even think of herself as being racist.

At the same time I was thinking of the Rwandan genocide, where nearly a million people were slaughtered by their own countrymen over three months, simply because they were seen as “other”, as “lesser”. They were called “cockroaches” by the leaders, who encouraged average citizens to take up machetes and kill their own neighbors. I’m sure they didn’t think they were doing anything wrong either.

When we marginalize a group, when we group them together and say that the actions of a few represent the whole and propose eliminating the entire group, then that has moved from racism into genocide. We have to stop this entire way of thinking before it is allowed to get to this point. These are like weeds that will take over the garden, choking out all beauty in the world.

At the end of my speech, she said she didn’t know all of that. She recognized the names but hadn’t put it together. She hadn’t realized that in America, more acts of terror have been committed by non-Muslims than Muslims.

I’m grateful for all the classes that I’ve taken that allowed me to maintain my cool and answer her in a calm way to educate her. Years ago I would have thought she was wrong, but not been able to speak up. Now, I was able to not only take a stand against a racist but also to educate her.

We must all be lights in this world. We must all combat racism and ignorance no matter where it erupts.

Poem – terrorist incident

How about we agree
that any time a person
willfully attacks
another person
it is an act of terror,
regardless of the color
of the people involved?
Regardless of politics or creeds,
regardless of belief,
regardless?

If a person attacks another person
with a gun,
a bomb,
a knife,
it is a terrorist act.
They are trying to terrify,
to instill terror,
plain and simple.