In the past 36 hours, I have watched and listened to hundreds of reactions of ordinary people to the attacks in Paris. With a clenched gut, I feared the reiteration of the sequence of 9/11: anger, shock, fear, calls for vengeance, war, and more violence.
Instead, I saw the unexpected, and a tendril of hope grew inside my heart. Here is some of what I saw:
Compassion for the scared, frightened, injured, killed.
A willingness to remember that all across the world, there are people frightened, hurt, angry, and lost.
An acknowledgment of the cycle of violence begetting violence begetting more and more violence.
A stark look at our own nation (the US) and our role in terrorism, invasion, drone strikes, illegal wars, destabilizing governments, regions, and peoples.
The courage to speak up for an end to this vicious, horrific cycle. To say the unthinkable: that perhaps more war, bombs, weapons, troops, guns is not going to heal the broken hearts of Paris, Baghdad, Beirut, Yemen, Syria, United States, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Israel, and . . .
The knowledge that the list is endless. We speak the illimitable names of all the communities touched by violence, terrorism, war, destruction. We say their names as if reading out a role call of the Earth.
And She is weeping, too. Earth.
Prayers are spoken, tears are falling, people are speaking, honesty and truth telling are breaking open the fear, giving room for compassion, until . . .
We see ourselves in the faces of the world. Our sorrows, their sorrows. Our fears, their fears. Our broken dreams, and theirs. Our wrong actions, and theirs. Our silence, their silence. Our courage, their courage. Our love, their love.
In hundreds of comments, posts, tweets, words, emails, speeches, I am seeing a glimpse of the impossible: that you, my friends, love this Earth and all her inhabitants.
That you see this violence is killing us . . . each and every one of us. We cannot bomb our way to peace. We cannot shoot our way to safety. We cannot drone strike our sense of security back. That ‘terrorist’ is a label that could fall on the faces of us all. That our nation, like their nation, has picked up bombs and blown apart the fabric of human lives.
The words of our mothers come back to us, “two wrongs do not make a right.”
And no amount of bombs will fix our broken hearts.
Instead, we must do the impossible, the only thing that can get us out of darkness. We must break the cycle of violence. We must return hatred with understanding. We must search our souls for the truth about why and how these things occur. And then, we must work for change.
No one said it would be easy.
In the weeks to come, the usual voices on their large podiums and loudspeakers, their television networks, and radio chains, and conglomerate newspapers will start shouting about retribution and driving out terrorism, invasions, increased troops, more fighter jets, drones strikes, bombs. They will convince our friends and neighbors that we are the dreamers. They will tell us we are unpatriotic, that we want the terrorists to succeed.
Unless we take a different course. A difficult course. The path we might have taken 13 years ago, of seeing our face in those that we fear. In seeing the mirror of our common humanity. In seeking understanding instead of annihilation. In changing the course of history toward a world beyond the threat of violence. I am courageous enough to think this might be possible . . . and audacious enough to speak out, act up, and work with my fellow human beings to make this vision so.