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Step away from politics for a moment and consider this question: What kind of world would you like to live in?
The pic is from a Families Belong Together rally, but today I don’t want to talk about weeping parents and traumatized children. I want to talk about what I learned at my first-ever rally.
My husband and I were anxious as we walked up to the steps of City Hall where others were gathering. I knew my husband was remembering the hostile demonstrations he had seen in the past when he was charged with maintaining order. Today he had assigned himself to protect the women with him. I loathe confrontation, but like my granddaughter, I was fiercely optimistic.
The first thing we noticed was the friendly, positive attitudes of the people around us, in spite of the fact that the group was diverse. Strangers crossed the lines of gender orientation, age, class, and race to smile at one another and engage in casual conversation. These were people who believed in what the first President Bush used to call “a kinder gentler nation.” My husband visibly relaxed. He wouldn’t have to fight his way out of this crowd.
We heard yelling from a few of the cars or trucks that drove past—demeaning shouts—not debate, just insults. With the pervasive police presence along the perimeters of the rally, the shouters moved on. What kind of world would those people create if left to their own devices, I wondered.
One man within our crowd began shouting against the speakers. Another man contradicted what he was saying, making the first man madder and louder. Then a couple approached him. They talked with him, listening to his complaints, quietly empathizing with his situation. His family had been separated due to some kind of intervention. “Who was there for me?” he bellowed. Police officers were gradually making their way toward him. “No one cared that my children were taken away!” Instead of asking what the man might have done to invite such action, the couple assured him they would’ve fought for him. They meant it, and he knew it. He fell silent. He didn’t really believe them, but their caring deflated his anger. The police moved away. The man’s wife and children glanced up at him, perhaps surprised to see his temper cool so quickly.
I learned two things: First, much of the ugliness we hear begins as pus seeping from old wounds—people from any walk of life who felt wronged, belittled, or forgotten at some point. Some comes from people who want to make sure no one gets away with receiving the same benefits they have without suffering as they believe they or their ancestors did. They don’t want to hear facts. They want a kind of revenge. I’ve met former immigrants, now citizens, who brag that they came legally as a reason to be cold-hearted toward even desperate refugees and children—never considering how the legal process of citizenship has become more difficult over the years or that seeking asylum is a legal process.
Second, I learned how deeply powerful compassion can be. Hatred and violence breed more hatred and violence. I think of the brutality elsewhere in the world and how it’s often about fear, jealousy, and old grudges. Insecure people want to feel superior to SOMEONE. Those who would control the masses have merely to feed those baser desires.
Finally, I remember my initial question: what kind of world would I like to live in? A world without insults or fear. I’d like to enjoy and learn from diversity. I’d like to share respect and be able to trust we’re all working toward a better life. I’d like to know people by their souls and not their appearance or address. Ask anyone who has lost all material possessions due to a natural disaster or a loved one due to a calamity: love is the greatest treasure.
Touching. Beautifully expressed. A gentle urging to us all to remain present in the face of rage, to ‘hear’ with our hearts. I can personally testify to the destructive force of repression and to the uninvited solitude that rises from the flames of loss. These are human experiences, however, and no matter how difficult, we, like you and your family, can choose to safeguard them, or rage war against a made-up foe. Like you, I want the greatest treasure, so will try to echo your story. Thank you, Susan. xx