Gatitudes: Small acts in defiance of hate, in service of love

Gratitude #7: Life is precious. Life is short.

For over a year my son Zander spent every day with his buddy. Then little Sam went off to day care, and Zander didn’t see him anymore.

A few weeks after that, my wife was filming Zander, asking him questions. He’s always a smiling, joyful little guy. But when she asked him, “Do you miss Sam?” Zander’s smile became a complex mix of emotions – happy and sad. It was the first time I’d seen him express so much emotion with a look. No tears, no words. Just a look. He missed Sam.

We grow up so fast. Each day, we imagine our future extending from where we stand. We believe the world tomorrow will look the way it did yesterday, and act as if things are the way WE are. But sometimes your closest friends are taken away too soon.

Tonight Sam’s daddy had an accident and died. We was so young. So joyful. My heart hurts for Sam.

Life is precious. Life is short. Hug each other. I am grateful for today, because that is reason enough for joy.

Tomorrow will bring what tomorrow always brings. And whatever that is, it will be enough.

Gratitude #8: You will not have my hate.

antoine-leiris-excerpt

On Friday 13 November 2016 ISIS attackers killed 130 people in Paris. After, the husband of one of these victims responded to this malice with resolve towards practicing radical love. On Facebook he wrote:

Friday night you stole the life of an exceptional person, the love of my life, the mother of my son, but you will not have my hatred. I do not know who you are and I do not want to know. You are dead souls. If this God for whom you blindly murder made us in His image, every bullet in my wife’s body is a wound in His heart.

So no, I will not bequeath this gift of hating you. I will not respond to your hatred with anger, for that would breed in me the same ignorance that made you what you are. You want me to be afraid, to eye my fellow citizens with suspicion, to trade freedom for the false promise of security, leaving us both lost souls, playing the same game, tit for tat.

I finally went to view her this morning. She was as beautiful as when she left last Friday night. As beautiful as when I fell in love with her 12 years ago. Of course I am devastated by grief, I grant you this small victory, but it will be short. I know she will be with us every day. One day we will find ourselves in this paradise of free souls that you will never discover.

We are two, my son and I, but we are stronger than all the armies in the world. I have no more time for you. I have to be with Melvil when he wakes up from his nap. He is 17 months old. He will eat his lunch just like any other day. Then we’ll play like we do everyday. For all his life this little boy’s joy will will be an affront to your nightmarish designs for this world. Those designs will fail, because no, you will not have his hatred either.

I am grateful for bold souls like Antoine Leiris, whose willful defiance reflects our higher purpose in life. We are eternally spiritual beings on a brief human journey. This spirit cannot breathe through walls of anger, but it can dissolve them.

Gratitude #9: Unbridled Joy

I’m grateful for the unbridled joy that little people can share with each other. Their unfiltered love has taught me so much in so little time.

Zander’s little buddy’s daddy died 3 days ago. Today Z and Sam spent the day together. Every time I see Sam I just want to squeeze him and tell him, “Your daddy loves you very, very much! Always. Never forget that.” But we wouldn’t understand. Not yet.

Instead, I am blessed to have a son that can share joy and laughter with him in a language they both understand.

Gratitude #26: For the Forgivers

There was a Wednesday night Bible study meeting that began like any other. A group of a dozen Christians met in their local church to pray and reflect. The twelve were all African American, and some were surprised to see a thirteenth white college-aged man show up. They welcomed him. The pastor invited him to sit beside himself.

They sang, prayed, then began to study the Gospel of Mark. The young visitor listened at first, then started looking down at his hands. Perhaps he was mulling over the way his father abused his mother, or the seven schools he’d attended before dropping out. Perhaps he was comparing this bible study with what his Evangelical Lutheran church preached. We’ll never know. What we do know is that he came to start a race war.

He stood up, pulled a gun out of his fanny pack, and aimed it at an 87-year old woman. Her nephew tried to talk the young man down. As he pulled the trigger, the nephew dove in front of his aunt to shield her. They both died. Then he shot seven more people, reloading five more times.

In the days after his arrest, relatives of the victims spoke at his bond hearing, offering him another chance at redemption.

“I forgive you,” Nadine Collier, the daughter of 70-year-old Ethel Lance, said. “You took something very precious from me. I will never talk to her again. I will never, ever hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.”

“We welcomed you. You killed some of the most beautiful people I know. Every fiber in my body hurts and I’ll, I’ll never be the same…. May God have mercy on you.” – Felicia Sanders, mother of Tywanza Sanders

“Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate, this is proof, everyone’s plea for your soul, is proof that they lived in love and their legacies will live in love. So hate won’t win. And I just want to thank the court for making sure that hate doesn’t win.” – Wanda Simmons, granddaughter of Daniel Simmons

“I forgive him and my family forgives him. But we would like him to take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the one who matters most: Christ. So that He can change your ways, so no matter what happens to you, you’ll be okay.” – Relative of Myra Thompson

“For me, I’m a work in progress. I acknowledge that I am very angry. But one thing that my sister always enjoined in our family … we are the family that love built. We have no room for hating, so we have to forgive.” – Sister of DePayne Middleton Doctor

I am grateful, indeed blessed, to see those that forgive. It would be easier to harden one’s soul and find reasons why this time forgiveness isn’t the answer. But that would spoil the garden that the dead were planting with their lives.

It was the system – not the victims – that sought the death penalty, because an Eye for an Eye is cleaner than Christianity. It would be far more dangerous to the State for people to start saying “I forgive,” because it leads us down a path of asking tough questions about the system itself. Gratitude comes from listening to these victims who find beauty in life amid the great suffering and hate that others brought upon them.

Gratitude #24:

This breaks my heart. A toddler so traumatized he doesn’t cry. This reminds me of similar scenes from the fall of Viet Nam – if you google image search “iconic images” you’ll see some. And though they’re 40 years old, they still appear in the top 10 most viewed “iconic images” on the Internet, year after year.

I know, because I track “iconic images” for my annual “the year in memes” post, of which this one will be added for 2016. So much suffering in 2016.

traumatized-3-year-old-aleppo-2016

And now for the gratitude part.

This one’s really hard. I’m grateful that I can still look at this and maintain some composure (for I am not traumatized), but still empathize with that kid, his family, the people in that room in Syria.

I’m grateful that when I see this my first reaction is “this is the real face of terror” and not “thank God our government is keeping these people out.”

I’m grateful that suffering isn’t something that makes me recoil. I won’t avoid it, dismiss it, explain it away, or ignore it. Seeking gratitude is a painful journey through the minefields of truth. We were not born to be comfortable. We were born into this world to embrace suffering and wrench the wretches free. If not me, who else?

That thought makes me feel powerful in a way that career success and achieving the “American Dream” could never match. Any dream that puts your own comfort ahead of others is a hallow one – a spiritual graveyard. America is rich with empty religions of mammon offering the promise of prosperity where we are looking for the strength to endure suffering for purpose.

I may have little control over the world, or my life, or even my sleep. Yet I feel in control when I my discomfort brings greater comfort to others. And I am grateful there are heroes in this crisis who are with me on this. This link describes a few: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/…/5-heroes-who-need-your-help…

Gratitude #25: Gratitude #24 explained – why this is the real face of terror.

This tormented soul, a three-year old child survivor of Aleppo, is the product of war. And that war is the product of us.

We are told that terrorists are bad people that hate us, or foolish people tricked into hate by other bad people. But that disregards history. The lessons are there for anyone who wishes to learn from history. Every generation’s apathy and realpolitik creates strife and nurtures terrorists in the generation that follows.

Some of the bombs dropped on Syrians today were paid for by US tax dollars. Some were carried aboard bombers flown by Americans. Many were produced in the war machine factories of American companies. We are not innocent bystanders in terror, but willing parties.

Our politicians try to keep it at a distance. I know of those in the state department working to find a path to peace amid these contradictions. Some news people shine light on this, and others in the media portray a version of the truth that fits within the space on the page, or length of a TV segment, discarding untidy pieces of the narrative as the business demands.

And so it goes. Terror is not a pinball machine. It’s a ouija board, and we all have a finger on it.

Some are guilty. All are responsible.

Hope isn’t found in denying this, it comes from living deliberately, from setting course with the wind of our values at our backs, from consoling the tormented souls and asking ourselves what can we bring to tomorrow, instead of asking what tomorrow may bring.

ike-cartoon-chance-for-peace

This is not new. In 1953, Dwight D Eisenhower spoke of how we all sew the seeds of suffering and war. He said (excerpted):

“And so it has come to pass that the Soviet Union itself has shared and suffered the very fears it has fostered in the rest of the world.

What can the world, or any nation in it, hope for if no turning is found on this dread road?

The best would be this:
– a life of perpetual fear and tension;
– a burden of arms draining the wealth and the labor of all peoples;
– a wasting of strength that defies the American system or the Soviet system or any system to achieve true abundance and happiness for the peoples of this earth.

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone.

It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.

It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population.

It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete highway.

We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat.

We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

This, I repeat, is the best way of life to be found on the road. the world has been taking.

This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

These plain and cruel truths define the peril and point the hope that come with this spring of 1953.

This is one of those times in the affairs of nations when the gravest choices must be made, if there is to be a turning toward a just and lasting peace.”

I AM GRATEFUL that past presidents and one five-star general understood this. And future leaders will rediscover it. From 1953 to 2016, all we’ve done is rename it terrorism, but it has been with us all along. It pulls up a chair and waits for us to grow weary of making hard choices. And there it will remain until we recognize that is in us, that IS us, and we change.

Gratitude #11: So much possibility

“A Trump victory? Everything happens for a reason,” she said.

“Yes and we choose the reason,” I was thinking, “when we decide what we do next.”

I am grateful to be alive at this moment in history. We have more agency to shape our world right now than any other generation in history. I feel as if millions of people just woke up and realized that the beloved community and the moral arc don’t just happen. We make them happen each day by what we choose. We’re still pushing uphill, but we’re no longer wearing roller skates.

Future historians will write about the meaning of these events. Whether it be the turning point when peoples worldwide lost faith in democracy, or the moment when humanity asserted that human rights were universal – something preserved by our attitudes and not by courts and legal challenges – that direction depends on what we will it to be. Having pushed that idea halfway up a mountain leaves it more precarious than where it began – a mere idea – and where it ultimately will end – at some higher plateau of human existence.

Yes, I AM grateful to be alive NOW when grit, resolve, and dedication are needed most. Better me than someone else.

Read 100 gratitudes, part 1: Small Gratitudes

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