Last night, my husband and I talked about fear. Both of us think that the nation has been overcome by fear of violence; fear of terrorism; fear of refugees; fear of the government taking their guns; fear that the government will take their rights; fear that foreigners will destroy our freedoms in the US; fear of the unknown. Can you blame people for being afraid? The litany of violence is overwhelming:
December 2, 2015 14 dead, 21 wounded in San Bernadino, CA, shot by a US citizen and his wife.
October 1, 2015 9 dead at Umpqua College in Roseberg, OR, shot by a US citizen.
August 26, 2015 2 dead, shot while broadcasting the news in Roanoke, VA, killed by a US citizen.
July 23, 2015 2 dead, 9 wounded at a Layfeyette, LA theater, shot by a US citizen.
July 17, 2015 9 dead, 1 wounded in a church in Charleston, SC, shot by a US citizen.
October 14, 2014 4 high school students dead in Marysville, WA, killed by a US citizen.
April 2, 2014 3 dead and 16 wounded at Fort Hood, TX, shot by an active duty US soldier.
Sept 16, 2013 12 dead, 3 wounded at Washington Navy Yard, shot by a US citizen / former US Navy sailor.
Dec 14, 2012 26 dead, 20 of the children, at Sandy Hook Elementary, shot by a US citizen.
July 20, 2012 12 dead, 70 injured in a theater in Aurora, CO, shot by a US citizen.
Jan 8, 2011 6 dead, 13 injured, including Congresswoman Gabriel Gifford, shot by a US citizen.
In case you are wondering, all of these guns were obtained legally, either by the killers themselves or by their parents (in the case of the Sandy Hook killer Adam Lanza, who used his mother’s legally obtained weapons, and in the case of the Oct 14, 2014 shooting by 15 year old Jaylen Fryberg, who killed students at his high school.)
You may have noticed that this list is missing the recent terrorist attacks in Paris at Charlie Hedbo and the Bataclan as well as the shootings in Denmark. Why do I list these only these acts of terrorism? Because…all of these acts of terrorism were committed by US citizens on US soil with legally purchased weapons. So much of the fear that I hear is of ISIS and foreign refugees. It seems to me that Americans have developed a short and selective memory.
As a child, I remember watching the news with my parents. My parents felt that watching the evening news, especially the World News, was something akin to a duty. In my parent’s world, there was no excuse for being ignorant of the world around you. My father repeatedly reminded me that those who were ignorant of history were doomed to repeat it; my mother echoed his sentiments by encouraging me to read about history and do my best to see the needs of other people, especially the poor, no matter where in the world those people were living.
All those nights watching Frank Reynolds broadcasting the World News gave me a view of the world I wish I didn’t have to remember: the 1975 LaGuardia airport bombing; planes being hijacked and diverted to foreign countries (so many I cannot remember all of them); Israelis taken hostage and killed at the Munich Olympics; US citizens held hostage in Iran for more than a year; people hijacked and then held hostage in Entebbe, Uganda. This doesn’t include the many acts of terrorism that I witnessed after I became an adult, including the bombing of the Alfred P Murrah building by Timothy McVeigh that killed 168 people in Oklahomah City, OK in 1995. I sat the couch nursing my newborn daughter Katie, horrified by the carnage that I saw on the TV screen. I watched the television for hours on end, cuddling and nursing my baby girl that day, shaking my head and crying. Again…this act of terrorism was committed by a US citizen, carried out with products purchased legally that created bombs of mass destruction, killing hundreds of American citizens.
Why am I sharing all of this with you?
Right now, thousands of Syrian refugees are praying that the US will grant them safe haven inside our borders. At the very same time there are people who swear these refugees are terrorists waiting to destroy our country. They will tell you that admitting 9,999 legitimate refugees is unacceptable if even 1 member of ISIS comes across our borders into the US, hoping to harm our citizens. I am here to tell you that you have more to fear from your own fellow citizens than you do from any foreigner, to remind you that your own countrymen have taken up arms against you and slaughtered innocent US citizens in the name of their politics or religion, and that US citizens will continue to do so whether you admit thousands of Syrian refugees or not. No matter who you ban from this nation, there will be plenty of people waiting to shoot you, hijack you, hold you hostage, or blow your body to bits and each and every one of them will be a US citizen.
Ted Kaczynsky (nationwide bombing campaign, 3 dead, 23 injured). Ted Bundy (30 homicides in 7 states). David Berkowitz (New York City, 6 dead, 7 wounded). Timothy McVeigh (Oklahoma City, 168 dead, 600+ wounded). Jared Loughner (Tucson, 6 dead, 13 wounded).
Is the litany of violence getting to you? I’ll bet it is. And yet…
The sun rises every day, revealing beautiful sunrises and later that day, another gorgeous sunset.
The world is filled with kind and wonderful people who love and serve each other daily. If you don’t believe me, go to your local food bank or your local hospital and watch as people come and go throughout the day.
Neighbors watch over each other, banding together in neighborhood watches so that the entire neighborhood can be safer.
Families take care of their children and adult children care for their aging parents, leading to ‘circle of life’ moments that are beyond beauty and that give testament to the depth of love we have for one another.
And it isn’t just at the macro level that we see kindness, generosity, and selflessness.
My daughter, who could be earning six figures working for a local micro-factory (yeah they really offered her that much money) instead chooses to open a business that helps other startups who are crowd-funding and prototyping their product; she and her partner and putting 2% of their profits into a vacation fund for their employees to encourage their staff to take their days off and be emotionally and physically healthy.
My friend, who could be a totally self-centered lawyer focused on earning a salary that would pay off her student loans, instead chooses to focus on serving Native American persons and joins the board of United Food Bank.
My colleague, now retired, spends her days volunteering at a hospice to help the dying and working with local Jewish leaders to create a new Synagogue where progressive Jews can gather and worship. Her husband, a retired professor, spends his days rocking premature infants so that new moms and dads can take a break for a shower or a nap while their child gets the most loving care possible.
Another colleague, still busy with a full practice, works in the Buddhist community to create as much peace and reconciliation as she can create between wounded factions.
I provide low-cost (and almost no-cost) counseling to people who fall through the social safety net because everyone, no matter what their income level, deserves the right to mental health care.
My husband sits on the board of a local outdoor behavioral health organization, raising funds so that low-income families can receive the same high quality treatment for their children that the rich families get for their kids.
I suppose that I could list each and every person I know who is choosing to be a part of the solution instead of the problem, but I’d be here writing all night long.
THERE IS NOTHING WORTH GIVING IN TO FEAR.
There will always be terrorist, hijackers, murderers, haters, bigots, racists, and people who simply vote for anger and hatred over peace and reconciliation. But that doesn’t mean that you and I need to give in to fear and despair.
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” Christianity 1 John 4:18
“Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Christianity 1 John 4:18
“When a person responds to the joys and sorrows of others as if they were his own, he has attained the highest state of spiritual union.” Hindu Bhagavad Gita 6.28-32
“Just as a mother would protect her only child at the risk of her own life, even so, let him cultivate a boundless heart towards all beings. Let his thoughts of boundless love pervade the whole world: above, below, and across without any obstruction, without any hatred, without any enmity.” Buddhism. Sutta Nipata 143-151, Metta Sutta
“Have benevolence towards all living beings, joy at the sight of the virtuous, compassion and sympathy for the afflicted, and tolerance towards the indolent and ill-behaved.” Jainism. Tattvarthasutra 7.11
“A man is a true Muslim when no other Muslim has to fear anything from either his tongue or his hand.” Islam. Hadith of Bukhari
“Who sees all beings in his own self, and his own self in all beings, loses all fear.” Isa Upanishad, Hindu Scripture
“We have appointed a law and a practice for every one of you. Had God willed, He would have made you a single community, but He wanted to test you regarding what has come to you. So compete with each other in doing good. Every one of you will return to God and He will inform you regarding the things about which you differed.” Islam, Surat al-Ma’ida, 48
“Indeed, Allah enjoins justice, and the doing of good to others; and giving like kindred; and forbids indecency, and manifest evil, and wrongful transgression. He admonished you that you may take heed.” Islam, Al Quran 16:91
“The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but, it is fear.” Gandhi
The world’s religions say it again and again: have compassion and love for one another, not fear. When we let ourselves soak in fear of “The Other”, no matter who that other is: foreigner or citizen, male or female, rich or poor…none of it matters…when we let ourselves soak in fear of the “The Other” our decisions are made by fear, driven by pain, and not one of them is wise.
Only in unity can we be greater than all the bombers and mass shooters and terrorists that can darken our days with their violence. Only in unity will greed be overcome by generosity. Only in unity will we find the peace and contentment we seek.
For perfect love casts out fear…let his thoughts of boundless love pervade the whole world…(have) compassion and sympathy for the afflicted…the enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but it is fear.