“Forgiveness is the key to action and freedom.” Hannah Arendt
Yesterday I got really angry – uncharacteristically angry – at something traffic related. In that moment I was incensed – I’ve worked over 100 hours in the last 2 weeks, haven’t seen my family, needed to get things done in preparation for Thanksgiving, and I had a plan that was being thwarted by what I observed as stupidity as I was forced to be inert. (insert crossed arms, stomping foot, and pouting lip to complete temper tantrum visual)
Obviously, from this you can tell that my world is filled with relative comfort, safety and opportunity. I got mad in traffic. How entitled of me in my white body, sitting in my mini-van, with my husband and 3 children after work at my awesome job, on our way to buy things for our safe, comfortable home in a good school district – where our dog and all of our stuff awaits us free from persecution, a few miles away from family and friends, where we will later eat what we want, drink what we want and watch television while painting our family room. What the f&%k do I have to be angry about? And yet, there it was.
After waiting in that traffic situation for longer than I felt was reasonable and seeing the outcome which infuriated me I took to social media lamenting my frustration and espousing self-righteous fear for the future of the world. In that moment it felt good to unleash my frustration. But soon this response to the situation began to feel petty, awful, and not in line with the person I want to be. I felt shame and embarrassment. I took down these posts and I began thinking about what could be causing this rage. It became perfectly clear.
I am sad. I am afraid. I am angry. I am tired.
A few days ago I had the opportunity to take my daughter to see an advanced screening of the new Hunger Games movie. It was offered by our local chapter of BBYO (B’nai Brith Youth Organization – a Jewish teen group) – in which I hope she will be a participant when she reaches High School. We were really excited. I enjoy being able to provide special experiences for my kids. It turns out that the film was a little too violent for her tender 12 year old sensibilities but overall it was a positive experience for my girl and her best friend. For me, however, it was the first time I have ever been afraid in a movie theater. The entire time I half watched the movie while also watching the exits and formulating a plan of action in case some lunatic were to enter shooting.
Five days before this were the attacks in Paris, Beirut, Mali, Yemen. ISIS takes hold of the Western world in an attempt to cut off our joy, our spontaneity, our joie de vivre. We will think about them now when we eat in restaurants, go to concerts, enjoy sporting events. Their seeds of hate and fear have been planted and now humanity will sow those seeds – or not – through our reactions to life and to each other. We can choose.
The week prior to Paris three white supremacists were arrested in my county for plotting to attack African Americans in their churches and Jews in synagogues and other Jewish organizations. I decided not to take my daughter to temple that Friday night – out of fear – but then I felt stupid and awful because that is exactly where I should have been.
The day after the movie, Ezra Schwartz – an 18 year old from Massachusetts, spending his gap year in Israel, was murdered delivering food to soldiers. He was not the first, nor will he be the last. My dream of taking my children to experience the world – as Jewish people – is increasingly more terrifying and uncertain.
Last Sunday, Jamar Clark became another unarmed black man killed in an altercation with the police. The people call for answers. The police defend their tactics. No one wins. Hate grows. Misunderstanding grows. Peace gets further and further away.
But I can’t help remember that we have been here before – in the Torah it says – “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.”
When I was a sophomore in High School the Oklahoma City bombings happened. After that we evacuated at least a couple of times per year for bomb threats. My friend living in Brussels was evacuated from her school the other day due to a bomb threat. It was terrifying. I remember.
When I was a freshman in high school the LA riots happened. People were angry and afraid. People here in Richmond, Virginia talked about race riots. What would happen? Would we be safe?
When I was 23 – 9/11 happened. The world changed. Hate grew – but love did too. Immense amounts of love poured out of people from all over the world and we were one people united in our will to overcome.
On December 7th, 1941 – Pearl Harbor happened. The world changed. People reacted in the same way. The way that is human beings’ first instinct – to come together. Until fear and anger set-in – and we did terrible things in the name of security, expediency, and politics. We turned away thousands of Jews sending them back to gas chambers and other unimaginable horrors. We interred Japanese Americans. We have allowed black people, women, gay people and the disabled to be marginalized, abused, and killed rather than trying to really see and understand them. We did that – Americans. We are capable of wrong doing, we are not infallible – fear and anger can justify a lot of terrible behavior in the mind of the perpetrator. That is universal – no one is immune – not even us. People react irrationally. Our brain chemistry makes us do things to protect ourselves, our children, our way of life in the moment. It is how we are made – it is the most basic reason for our continued existence.
The big bad “They” are not the only people who create terror. The people of “Otherness” are not the only ones who incite fear. It is not about the enemy or the “Them” it is about how we choose to react to the world – to each other – the fear – the desperate human desire to hold on to life as we know it. We are not different from them – we are all a part of the same humanness. Among many that is likely a very unpopular statement – but it is the most true of all the truth. We are all us.
I wish I could just wrap myself up in the black and white blanket of hate and certainty but I can’t. Maybe things would be easier but – I don’t hate anyone. I don’t hate ISIS, I don’t hate Congress, I don’t hate Westboro Baptist Church – I don’t hate anyone. It’s really hard to make sense of why people do the terrible things they do if I don’t hate them. If I can’t make them different from me then there must be sameness in there – there must be something in them that is like me. What if there is also something of them in me?
I got angry in traffic – in part because I was pissed off for being inconvenienced – because I’m spoiled and myopic at times. Yet, what really infuriated me was that there were solutions to the situation in which I found myself. The solutions required a little creative thinking but not too terribly much. In that moment I was upset that rather than thinking of creative solutions to the problem people were just sitting there waiting a really long to time to go they way they had always gone and holding up forward motion for the rest of us. But the thing that has become clear to me since last night is that it’s not about being angry at other people for how they react to the world. I don’t have control over how other people react to things.
Psychologist, meditation teacher and Buddhist scholar Tara Brach says that anger is our minds telling us that we have unmet needs. It’s important to recognize our anger, see the value in what our minds/bodies are telling us in that moment in order to affect change – not for the sake of remaining in that space. I am going to sit with this for awhile and try to figure out how to be ok and keep my family safe in a time of deep uncertainty and deafening noise.
I haven’t written in awhile because I have been feeling all of this confusion. I didn’t know how to talk through it. So I just put my head down and figured it would come out when it was time. If you are able to hear all of this right now then let’s talk about it. If you are not – I hope we can find a middle ground at some future time to meet and peacefully discuss our differences.
Love to all,