Two images are seared into my brain from a long and newsy day.
The first are images of bloody and fearful Belgians, fleeing violent bombings. I saw these wordless images this morning, on the 24-hour news channel in a hospital waiting room, as I sat with a church member while his wife had surgery. It was surreal.
I was trying to concentrate on him, trying to be a comfort in an already fearful situation, while a constant flood of images screamed without a word…. BE….AFRAID.
Although that’s the first image in my brain, I’m not going to post a violent image on this blog. Because terrorism’s goal is fear. And I will no longer be an accomplice in spreading fear.
Terrorism’s goal is to make us react. In the lingo of sports fans, terrorism “draws us offsides,” and turns us into people we might not normally be. It makes us do things we wouldn’t normally do.
And, as if on cue, we have Ted Cruz, calling for patrols through Muslim neighborhoods in this country. A major presidential candidate, using an act of terror, not as a moment to calm our reptilian brains, but to play off that brain’s greatest flaw.
As I heard Cruz’s words, immediately thought of my Father (Who was also a lifelong Republican…) I thought of the advice he used to give me, with respect to bullies:
“Don’t let them get to you. Don’t get down on their level. That’s what they want.”
As a small child, I’d come home from school with a quivering lip, full of an insult from some kid. And Dad would counsel me to hide that lip, and to put away my fear and anger. With advice that sounded remarkably like St. Paul’s metaphor about “heaping hot coals,” Dad would say:
“They WANT you to react….Don’t give them what they want.”
That’s why I no longer immediately post about any shootings, bombings, and the like. I don’t ignore them. But for about the past six months or so, I also don’t rush to post about them, as they are happening “in the moment.” It’s a part of my commitment to not be “reactive” at moments when the media wants me to be…to not be controlled by either them, or terrorists.
“Don’t give them what they want…”
This can feel disloyal, somehow. As if, by not reacting, we are callously dishonoring lives lost, in a moment of tragedy. Or worse, that we are being heartless.
Which led me to another thought in the car today: If I was a victim in today’s massacre, what would I want? How would I want the world to react?
So, let me answer that, as clearly, honestly, and bluntly as I can:
If, God forbid, I was ever killed in a terrorist attack, or by some crazed gun-lover, the best way to honor my life in the moment would be for you to simply go about your day. Do whatever it was you had planned for the day.
Honor me —and cut the legs out from what terrorists want— by turning off the 24-Hour News.
That coffee and donut you meant to get? Get it! And enjoy every succulent bite.
Head to your office and do your best to fulfill your vocation. Go to your kid’s basketball game, and cook dinner with your lover that night.
Shop at the mall. Ride your bike at the park. (That one would make me especially happy…) Buy groceries. Weed the garden.
Honor my death by continuing to live your life, normally.
And in this, you will join the beautiful, and unstoppable, non-violent tradition of Jesus, Gandhi and King. Your non-violent, non-fearful, response would be the very best way to honor my life. And I thank you now, in advance.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work for good in the world, or for social justice. Just don’t let hurt, anger, or fear drive your response.
Terrorism wants fear, division, hatred, and distrust. We beat terrorism by refusing to do (or be) any of those.
Which gets me to my most favorite image from today. It’s this…
President Obama and Raul Castro, at an exhibition baseball game.
Doing. The. Wave.
For the record, I hate the wave. I personally refuse to do it at any sporting event, ever.
But on a day when the Cable News Gods want nothing more than to make you afraid, this frivolous moment is the antidote to all our fears.
I’m already hearing a chorus of complaints about this image. In fact, I originally saw it posted by a conservative pundit who no doubt saw it as embarrassing.
I’m mesmerized by it. I keep watching it, over and over. I’m captured by what it wordlessly says to terrorists…
“Hey ISIS….We Americans….Cuba and the US….We’ve got BASEBALL.”
“Hey ISIS…We Americans….Cuba and the US….We’ve got THE WAVE!!!”
“Hey ISIS….THIS is what we did today…”
And as I watched over and over, I remembered just how implausible this scene is.
An American President. Visiting Cuba. To watch the Cubans and The Rays play baseball.(1)
And I thought back to the fears of my childhood…
I was a baby in the early 1960s. My Father was a defense contractor. The “Cold War” wasn’t just some exterior myth. It was a everyday reality we lived and breathed. And the greatest stories of fear from my early childhood involved Cuba and The Soviet Union.
Lest we forget, there were brief, terrifying days in the early 1960s, when every man, woman, and child alive thought the world was about to be blown to bits. Not just the dull fear of nuclear annihilation we lived with every day back then; but the very real and tangible “Cuban Missile Crisis.”
Any adult who was alive at that moment will tell you: They thought the world was on the brink of annihilation. In terms of the fear it inspired, that moment was like a “Brussels,” a “Paris,” and an “Ankara,” all rolled into one.
(You might also argue, btw, that those thirteen-days birthed our modern, media-driven-fear of world events…)
Which reminds me of how that all ended.
Cuba hasn’t been a serious threat in decades. I later took NINE trips to Russia in the late 1990s, with a church group.
We went to Russia once —and we went back time and time again— to build bridges and trust between old “enemies.” We engaged in a decade-long “cultural exchange” between beautiful, ordinary Russians and beautiful, ordinary Americans.
We played music together. We worked in schools and orphanages together. We drank vodka and started a church together. (In that order, too, btw…). They came to Texas. And we went back again and again.
I spent four straight July 4ths in a Moscow hotel room…a fact-by-association that might have caused my Dad to lose his job, twenty years before.
And with each new trip, each hug, each toast to “Russian/American friendship,” we drove away the ghosts of our fears and came to know that at heart we were all just human beings.
That kind of compassion and understanding —when it develops between people the world calls “enemies”— can save our world.
It’s already happening today too, but we need more of that same kind of response when it comes to Muslims and Americans. We need churches, synagogues, mosques (and people of no faith) to continue to reach out and cooperate together…to do ordinary things together…so that we might banish the ghosts of fear in our age too.
We need not give in to our fears. Honor the dead by going about your daily life. Honor them by not giving terrorists what they want. Always build bridges of hope, whenever you can, but especially when voices of hate tell you to build walls instead.
And keep looking at that stupid little GIF, over and over.
Because that image tells the story of what finally becomes of our fears.
(1) The Rays won, 4-1.