Heartbreak and Hope
I went to bed last night thinking about the happy things I'd write in this post. Finishing the rough draft of nearly half my book. Turning in my last assignment of my first MFA year. Completing the 19-Day Fast. The odd feeling that accompanies the first bite of food eaten in daylight on Naw-Rúz. And the joy of knowing that spring where I live is, in theory, here.
Then I woke up this morning and scanned the headlines. It's Belgium now.
By the time I hit Facebook a few hours ago, my diverse set of friends was blowing up in every direction. Some thinking about solidarity with the citizens of Brussels. Others engaging in vitriolic grandstanding (I'm biting my tongue hard about this). A few simply offering a reflection of whatever good they found in their day.
I've reached a place where sadness, not anger or fear, is my prevailing emotion at news like this. And then I think about what we can do to prepare ourselves and every child, all around the world, so that our reaction to hardship is love instead of hate. The current pain of the world didn't suddenly appear without cause, and it won't disappear without work. Let's be real. That work falls on every person of good will. Statesmen play a role, too, but they need to behave as human beings endowed with compassion and wisdom, first.
Sometimes, I think we get so hung up on the problems being "big" and "other" that we forget to do our own part, in each little way that we can. The way we speak, the care we show, the lives we lead. I am far from perfect in this regard. My tongue gets the better of me, in particular, and I may think of something empathetic after it's too late to take action. Still, I try again.
I'm a Bahá'í. I don't perceive the world in a general us and them dichotomy, but only as us, no matter how we may differ. I'm also American. I have benefited from geographic separation and personal freedom. I find it mind-boggling that even many of my friends don't recognize the privilege that provides us, along with the responsibility to do good, to do better, to do our best not only for ourselves, but for others.
We never know what our actions may achieve. We never know the part we play. But we do know that people and conditions have the capacity for change. I'm reminded of the legends told about the prison city of 'Akká (then in Palestine, now in Israel) in the late 1800s, that the very air of the place was so foul that a bird flying over the city would drop dead. And so, when I was there in 2012, I found myself taking pictures of the birds chirping in the courtyards and perching on the walls of the marketplace. Change is possible.
It starts with improving our own minds and our own hearts. For example, in response to the 1911 Battle of Benghazi, 'Abdu'l-Bahá told a group gathered in Paris, in part:
"I charge you all that each one of you concentrate all the thoughts of your heart on love and unity. When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love. Thoughts of war bring destruction to all harmony, well-being, restfulness and content. Thoughts of love are constructive of brotherhood, peace, friendship, and happiness."
These are frightening times. I find myself thinking back on my childhood in the 1980s on the West Coast and thinking how much simpler life was. And then I remember that it was only simple for me because of geography and nationality. It wasn't easier for native children on the reservations. Or kids living amid war and terror in the Middle East. Or for little ones starving in Africa. Or for girls abandoned in China. Or for children in Southeast Asia. Or for tiny tots faced with the drug cartel wars of Latin America. Or for Irish kids dodging rubber bullets on the way to school.
Like me, all of those kids are grown up now. Like me, they carry the legacy of their upbringing, whether they've used it to exert positive or negative influences on the world. And, like me, they have choices about the actions they take now, and in the next breath, and in the next hour, and for the rest of their lives. I hope more of us choose love over hate.
Love conquers fear. Faith conquers fear, whether that faith is in the inherent goodness of the human being or in God, by whichever name we call Him. Together, love and faith give us the strength to truly live, with the intention and hope that our little actions will help improve the condition of the world. They are what keep Americans flying, Parisians attending concerts, Arabs and Israelis eating in cafes. In fact, in the days after 9/11, that was the request that I heard from a bandmate who was dealing wit the horrors uncovered on the pile at Ground Zero. Live, he begged of friends tracking his work through email updates, whatever else you do, live.
When I'm flying, or on a train pulling into Penn Station, or driving across landmark bridges, or in a crowd, or on city streets, I remind myself to have faith, which for me means relying on God. I remind myself to act with love toward the people I meet. I try to make them smile and feel like someone really sees them, whatever their story is and wherever they've been. And when I'm frightened, I think of this last part of a prayer written by The Báb and remember to breathe:
Say: God sufficeth unto me; He is the One Who holdeth in His grasp the kingdom of all things. Through the power of His hosts of heaven and earth and whatever lieth between them, He protecteth whomsoever among His servants He willeth. God, in truth, keepeth watch over all things.
Immeasurably exalted art Thou, O Lord! Protect us from what lieth in front of us and behind us, above our heads, on our right, on our left, below our feet and every other side to which we are exposed. Verily, Thy protection over all things is unfailing.