French tricolors tug at my heart as they sprout on famous buildings around the world today, in support of France after terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday, November 13. No, no, not again so soon after Charlie Hebdo! Why do Islamic militants have it in for this small country so famous for its arts, food, culture? … Its revolution.
I do not rub up against the horrors of disintegration willingly because that’s like tumbling into a black hole, to be stretched and stretched and s…t…e…. Till you snap. You can’t get out.
This time I have to do this.
Disintegration … meaning that the world appears to be getting to a dark, dark and divided place from which there will have to be radical changes on the way back into the light. One of which would be a more even handed system of justice that includes everyone, be they mogul or subsistence farmer. Love is more powerful than hate, I believe, though days like this drop the persistence of hate into one’s consciousness.
Hate, after all, is only the absence of love, just as darkness is only the absence of light. Of themselves the qualities of hate and dark have no power, they must be reactions to absence.
Me, I sit and muse. Others must write, immediately. It took me this twenty four hours.
I read prayers, posting a couple on my Facebook page. For a time I read blogs just written by a number of deeply creative people in author Jon Katz’s Creative Group for Bedlam Farm on Facebook. Then I turned to images of the world’s most famous buildings all decked out — by lights — in French tricolors. Like Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, in the country where I once came close to terrorists.
How deeply such acts touch people, and how many feel reverberations of horror one way or another without even knowing where that came from at the time. Then you realize how very fine the line is between yourself and your relatively comfortable life strong with its love, and those who have nothing but cold hatred to feed into their hungry hearts. This has happened to me, and this is why I have lingered over Friday the 13th in Paris.
It was in early September, 1972, the day a college friend and I were returning to the US after visiting another friend in the Austrian Alps. We came into Munich in the early hours of September 5 aboard a train car where most of the passengers were young Palestinian men. Focused on making our early plane out of the city where the Summer Olympics were going full tilt, speaking little German, we barely noticed that a lot was happening. Sirens, traffic blocks, here and there groups of people huddled together. Scared looks.
Black September was in town. Not like the friendly Palestinians I would later meet in Haifa, Israel. Black September, terrorists. … Some of them, we later heard on the news, had also just come up to Munich from Austria by train.
As we were arriving at the airport, picking up bits of information that conveyed so little, those Palestinian terrorists were busy. Israeli athletes were already being beaten, shot, and rounded up in a mass kidnapping by burlier, more hardened Palestinians than the ones we had just traveled with. Till we arrived home in Boston though, my friend and I had very few details on the weird vibes around us.
Uncharacteristically for Lufthansa at that time, we were searched on our way through the airport. Uniformed, edgy individuals doing the searching eyed me, hopping along with my wooden crutches, long leg braces and colorful, post hippy outfit, deciding to skip some of the things other passengers were detained for. In my case that was a safe call, yet later when I fell into the arms of my worried parents and heard what had been going on in Munich at the time, I wondered why the Germans had been willing to assume that a young handicapped woman wouldn’t have had something nasty stuck inside a leg brace or whatever.
Ten years later I would be working with some Israeli professors at Boston University and getting a more intimate view of what had gone on in their nation at that terrible time. I would visit Israel myself, with my Jewish husband, in time to hear so many Israeli fighter jets making runs north from where we were, over Lebanon — which Israel was preparing to invade. Each sounded like a thousand pieces of fabric being ripped at once. In April we were standing before the Dome of the Rock in the Old City of Jerusalem within one day of the time when an Israeli soldier with extremist views stormed into that holy shrine and shot a couple of Arabs dead, wounding many others.
I am a person who believes that all religious faiths are valid, that we should honor one another’s beliefs, not disparage or act in violence because of human differences. Watching the Hasidic Jewish men on a hot day at the Wailing wall as they bowed and prayed in their layers of gabardine suits and coats, hats atop their heads with long sidelocks, hearing the keening sounds they made, I absorbed a powerful difference between me and them in the way we worshiped. So I did in observing Moslems in their shrine bowed over with their heads to the floor, row after row. In hearing the calls to prayer by the muezzin, strange then to my western ears.
How could someone come to want to shoot them for being unlike oneself, one’s family?
From the professors and a couple of people I met in Jerusalem and elsewhere I learned, not always pleasantly, about the dance that, in a tiny country, turns young idealism and love for one’s family into obsessiveness for the fate of one’s own kind. From there the hideous transformation, for a few, into hardened commandos, even terrorists when they go outside the military law. Once started in those moves of darkness the outcome will most probably launch a mirrored response in those soon to be attacked. A spiral of horrors begins.
To me this seems a collective delusion not so different from what happened in Nazi Germany. Like the denial by a few people that the Holocaust ever happened.
With terror the way out can never, ever be more of the same. Someone has to move away, to hold onto the existential love for fellow humans. When I heard French President François Hollande declaring that France will “wage merciless war” against the Islamic state and other jihadists, my heart grew heavier for a while, for the lives of the terrorists were lost so long before they came to commit this violence.
Then I reminded myself, love fills more of the world than hate, faster, and for longer. Focusing on interactions in our own lives that grow love, this is what we can do as individuals in the face of such seemingly hopeless hatred elsewhere …. I love to think of these favorite lines, from Baha’i writings:
Where is the meteor of Thy fire, O Light of the worlds? …. Thou seest the hearts are filled with hate, and to overlook is Thine, O Thou Concealer of the sins of the worlds.
When the swords flash, go forward! When the shafts fly, press onward! O Thou Sacrifice of the worlds.
To always, always, go forward with your love. To have that faith that this is strong enough to push away the darkness. To sense that treating an ill-wisher with kindness is ultimately more forceful than it seems at first.
I am speaking of me, of us, regular people. Not of governments which do things to ensure the safety of their people. Governments will do what they must about ISIS, ISIL, whatever this latest terrorists are called. Once a line is crossed even I, who would cherish the spark of love inside each young human being till it grows into a warm fire, even I understand that there is action to be taken, collectively, to put an end to it.
We are generally unaware when some tiny thing we do, like smiling at a stranger in the market, intervening in a fight between two small children on a playground, catching a runaway dog for an old person who can’t move fast enough, will change a darkening pattern of thought for somebody and hence change the world. We don’t, but we should keep on doing those same small things anyway.
Something else that I came across today that speaks to my spirit is a song by a Native from Canada, “Ghost Dance”. So much cultural genocide against American indigenous people for some four centuries, and so much effort at redemption is represented in the original Ghost Dance — and this version takes it to a high level with its lyrics.
“They don’t stand a chance against our love,” sings Robbie Robertson. If anyone knows what it is to be terrorized it is the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Yet they survive, they stand strong, they offer so much to the greater world despite persistent injustice and pain. They are going to live a long, long time. Alongside the rest of us who don’t succumb to the dark and make it into the light.
Phil Lane, Jr., of the Ihanktonwan Dakota and Chickasaw Nations is recognized internationally as an indigenous leader in human and community development. What he said earlier today is strong in my mind this evening:
“What could have caused Human Beings to commit such senseless acts of terror to other defenseless Human Beings? It is a deep question to pray and ponder about. As I see it, only hurt people hurt people, only colonized people colonize people and only terrorized people terrorize people!”
Check out the uTube video of Ghost Dance: