Last Sunday, August 5, I returned from a nine-day retreat and learning opportunity. It was the same day that a gunman went into the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, murdered six people and injured three people - including a police officer who injured the shooter (yes, I am deliberately not using his name). Since I was still in something of a cocoon, I was unaware of the incident until Monday morning. My heart sank.
As with the mass murder in Aurora, Colorado last month (may I not have to write or say that again any time soon), I remembered so many other such shootings that have occurred over my lifetime. In 1999, I cataloged several infamous murders and mass murders in a poem and called it "Heart Meditation"; amending it after September 11, 2001 to include that event and it may be time to amend it again.
Since then, I use it as part of my intro to remarks. Today, I will close with it as I need to discuss two disturbing phenomena in reporting the story regarding the Sikh Temple.
First, I find myself distressed by the conversation to make a distinction between "hate crimes" and "domestic terrorism". I consider the attempt a parsing in search of differentiation. From my experience hate crimes - crimes committed against others due to the bias, hatred or assumptions of the perpetrator(s) are acts of terrorism. The specific victim is a message to all who identify with the victim. Hate crimes are intended to make it clear that:
- any woman of any race or class regardless of looks can be stalked, raped, maimed or murdered simply because she is female by any random male who has that point to make.
- any person perceived to be out of the sexual norm (whatever that means) will be beaten, humiliated or murdered by any person at random who has that point to make.
- any person of color, or person perceived to be something other than white, can be humiliated, beaten, terrorized, tortured, or murdered at random by any person who has that point to make. And,
- anybody who is different can be a target of anything from mischief to mayhem.
I was four-years-old when I learned I the world was not safe because I am Black. I was ten when I learned the world was not safe because I am female. Decades later, nearly daily there are reminders that some people would prefer that I and many people I care about would just shut up or otherwise disappear.
Despite the stress of that part of my reality, I get up everyday with gratitude and happy to be alive - a major accomplishment in a world where people want me dead. And, that's the point - despite the intent to terrorize (cause one or many to live in fear), I live life as fully and purposely as I can. Many of us live life as fully and purposely as we can - WE live. Yes, like any woman or person of color, I take certain precautions just as some light-skinned people take precautions. By and large, fear of being harassed most of the time does not stop me from doing most of what I want to do; only how I decide to do it.
I also know from personal experience that:
- most people are kind and well-intentioned,
- most people are ready and happy to assist,
- I don't have to meet another's bad actions with the same energy,
- if I disappeared this instant, I would not take all the bigoted energy in the world with me, and
- my willingness to live as much as I can into gratitude, generosity and grace are a triumph over every form of evil.
Yes, there are exceptions to each of these statements, including the moments when I am reactive instead of responsive. That's life. I was never promised that life would be easy or simple. Reality is much more interesting - much more complex. I think that's why I so appreciate this quote:
"I learned to make my mind large - as the universe is large - so that I could hold paradox." Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior.
That is the paradox: To live fully is to live with and enjoy the good as well as honoring and mourning the rough. That's why I mourn all those lost to hate and will as long I am alive. I will keep sharing this poem, remembering as I do all the incidents missing - including those unknown to me. I am a survivor who is thriving and I am fully aware that makes someone known or unknown to me angry. I choose to count my blessings and ask for forgiveness before I fall asleep and rise with joy and thankfulness. Yes, there are days when it is harder to muster than others - that's why I appreciate prayer; my gateway to holding all that needs to be held.
The second concern is how it's been reported that the shooter may have thought he was killing Muslims - as if it is okay for him to wanted to kill anybody. When we create hierarchies of oppression we are actually perpetuating the model instead of transforming it. As my friend Mario Cooper said nearly 20 years ago: Pain is pain and discrimination is discrimination. Domestic terrorism, whether perpetrated by a "lone wolf" or a group is a message to all who are different - ALL who are DIFFERENT. All who differ. WE ALL ARE DIFFERENT.
Yih'yu l'ratzon imrei fi v'hegyon libi
l'fanecha, Adonai tzuri v'go-ali.
I give thanks to the Ancestors, the First People of this land.
I give thanks to my Ancestors: those of blood, those I have chosen and those who have chosen
I give thanks to the Mother/Father Godspirit, the One of Many Names, who gave us, and continues to give us, heart teachers to guide us on our paths, our journeys, especially those that lead to connection.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart
be acceptable unto you; be acceptable unto you.
I give honor and praise to the Original Fire within each of us.
I give praise and salute the spirit within you that guided your journey here.
May my words fall upon your heart as they are intended: to aid us all in the work of building right relations among and between our many people.
I dedicate my remarks to the memory of
- Martin Luther King, John Kennedy and his brother Bobby; Malcolm X, Medger Evers
- James Byrd, Jr,
- Mathew Shepard,
- Billy Sykes,
- the 12 students and the teacher Killed at Columbine High School,
- the young children injured and frightened at the Los Angeles Synagogue day care center and Joseph Ileto, the Filipino Postal Worker killed in the same rampage,
- Coach Ricky Byrdsong and the others who were murdered and injured during the hate spree in the Asian American, African American and Jewish American communities in Illinois and Indiana in the summer of 1999;
- the more than three thousand, four hundred people who died or were injured on September 11, 2001;
- and all victims of hate in this country and around the world.
May the grief we who knew you and we who never knew you feel for how you died and how you were injured give you peace, and motivate us to be:
- stronger allies of justice
- responsible advocates of change,
- ambassadors and modelers of, respect between and among our many people.
Adonai, zuri zuri v’goali
Adonai, zuri v’goali
So Mote It Be.
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