American Heartbreak

Orlando, Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, and now Dallas. America has had its most heartbreaking month since 9/11. The killing of two black men by police and the subsequent killing of five police officers could serve as a wake-up call telling us exactly where our mutual distrust, suspicion, and outright hostility toward one another has gotten us. I like the saying, hurt people, hurt people. There has sure been an excess of that going on in a vicious cycle. Hurting people hurts the people.

Driving around Oklahoma City a couple of months after the Murrah Building bombing I found myself listening to Billy Graham giving a talk over the radio. I never agreed with him on any point of theology but I found myself on common ground with him when I heard him say that we could let the tragedy harden us or we could use it to soften ourselves in an appreciation of the fragility of life. Oklahoma really is a friendly place but for a few months after the bombing people were particularly gentle with one another in our grief over the loss.

Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck observed that the benefit of a meditation practice is that it moves the practitioner from a life that involves hurting oneself and others to a life of not hurting oneself and others, The greatest lesson I've learned from my own practice is that any mean thing I do or say creates chain of meanness that may reach farther than I can imagine. I know that I feel bad being rude to someone and the person I've hurt is likely to hurt me back, or worse, take it out on someone else. It is the same with kindness. I feel good when I say kind things when I make someone feel valued they are likely to pass it on to someone else. someone who really needs it.

9/11 hit us hard. It let us know that oceans couldn't protect us from chaos and cruelty. It didn't soften us, but hardened us into warring tribes hurling crude insults back and forth. I don't think things will get better until we begin to see that all lives matter and everyone's fears and concerns matter. We can only begin by showing basic respect for other people, even when they say things we consider stupid or mean. Beneath ugly words is a frightened, hurting heart and I consider it my responsibility to respond that that in the kindest way I can manage. So far, the kindest I can manage is often silence and a bite of my too sharp tongue. Building bridges to other people takes more work than tearing them down.

One of my most memorable afternoons was a warm Friday in the school auditorium of Noble Junior High School in Noble, Oklahoma listening to a talk by a Holocaust survivor. He held the entire school spellbound for a good two hours while he spoke of his experience in the camps. At the end one of the kids asked him if he ever got a chance to get revenge. He said that a soldier had offered a gun and the opportunity to shoot one of his guards but he turned it down. He told us that "God didn't put us here to hurt one another. He put us here to love one another." If life of a Nazi guard can matter then there is some hope that all lives matter.