Shootings and bombings are coming at such a rapid pace that it is difficult to internalize the horror of one attack before it is eclipsed by another or several other attacks. I’ve spent time in the last few days talking with others about what we might do to honor the 250 who died in Baghdad after Sunday’s attack, only to be invited into other conversations about vigils for Alton Sterling and [Philando] Castile in Baton Rouge and St Paul. And then this morning I wake to the news that 5 police officers have been ambushed and killed in Dallas as a peaceful protest march was wending its way through downtown. As I was returning home from a meeting just now I heard a commentator on Newsradio ask if people thought the country was out of control.
And I feel compelled to ask, “when will it end?” although I’m not sure anyone can answer that question, or the much more ominous one: “will it end?” There are a few things I do know. Among them, that it doesn’t matter who the slain victims are – it is still a lost life, it is still a tragedy, and there are still people who are grieving the loss of a loved one. Another thing I know is that it doesn’t seem to matter who we are: every one of us could be the next target. True there are demographics that render some more likely [frequent] targets than others, but it seems right now that no one and no place is truly impervious to the possibility of danger. And three, that although it would be easy to give up, give in to helplessness and hopelessness, withdraw from action – that is exactly the thing we must not do.
This “out of control” violence will not end if we do not continue to stand against it and call for measures to curtail it. Many years ago Margaret Mead pointed out the importance of our staying in the battle for a better world: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” We, who consider ourselves people of faith and progressives must be that small group. No matter how much I may despair of ever making a difference, of prevailing in even a small way, I have to continue forward with action after action. If we are willing to be steadfast, to call again and again for gun control, to lead the way to a better world, others will join us. Those who have given into despair, fear, and hopelessness will follow our lead – maybe not today, or next week, maybe not even this year, but eventually. However, I believe also that if we give up, our world may never change from the strife ridden, violent state of things that now seems to permeate every place. And so I have just accepted an invitation, here in Orange County, to be part of a discussion to talk about how this community crisis affects all of us, what needs to change, and how we can work together to stop the violence. That’s one small step I can take.
But I know there is another, even more important step I need to take as well. We can’t simply work to eliminate the violence – we need to also put something in its place. And that, of course, is love. It’s hard to love someone if we have defined them as our enemy. It’s hard to love those who are reacting with violence toward those that they believe are their enemies. But we must find a way to do that or there will be nothing good to take the place of violence even if we make a raft of laws against it. We already know how to love each other [most of the time], we already know how to reach out to the victims of violence and their loved ones. Can we now add to our call for a better way a realization and sensitivity to those who are so alone, so held down by the world they live in, that they feel the only resort they have is violence? Can we find ways to enter their world BEFORE they reach that point and look to helping them find other opportunities to be heard, to survive, even to thrive? If not – if our only recourse is to do battle against violence [note that I looked for a word that didn’t connote violence, but realized that most of the words we use are violent], we won’t reach the better world we dream of, but rather create a new wasteland. I’ve never thought I was all that good at “loving my enemy”, but I keep trying. I keep looking for ways that I can love and respect all, and sometimes I actually succeed.
I hope you will join me. The opportunities actually abound.
Blessings on our work together! Karen