This reflection should begin as all flows from the heart should begin – with a word of thanks. Thanks to life itself is primarily due, for our graciously given time on this earth, and the abundance of beauty that we are given the opportunity to experience, and (in those most celebrated moments) create. But moreover, for the love, inspiration, and genuine investment of humanity that is germane to our ever expanding BTC family, my personal, eternal thanks is due as well. What has been born amongst each of us – that is, this seva that we attempt to maintain in our everyday lives – is something that has become central for me, and that sustains my hope in the midst of otherwise trepidatious and downtrodden times.
That being said, it is necessary for me, in the most selfish sense, to express the fulgurations of my heart for these past two weeks. Monday the 16th saw an incredibly staunch dichotomy unfold for all of us, I believe. My personal experience was no different. That Monday morning I was incredibly self-absorbed, as I was laughably irritated with being up all night preparing for a conference addressing human rights issues that was to be held that day. The morning saw a very cranky, very snide side of me interacting with people as little as possible so as to not defile, abuse, mame, appal, or otherwise offend any soul unfortunate enough to cross my path. I wanted nothing more than to get the conference over with and go home – as passionate about the subject as I may be, I was too engrossed in my own dispositional dissatisfactions to be excited for the fact that something positive was being done.
I then received a phone call from a good friend of mine who is quick to call me on bad moods and sour dispositions. “Can you believe what happened in Virginia?” he asked. I shortly replied “Haven’t checked the news. What?”, anxious to get off the phone and back to work. “33 people are dead. Maybe you should.”
I froze. Reality, in the sense of this side of reality – the harsh, sharply edged, and cold, cold, cold side of human nature and capacity – bore down on me like a wrathful storm. In an inexpressible confluence of thoughts and emotions, all my own complaints for the day dissolved as I stood quietly bereft for a tragedy whose magnitude I did not yet know. After finding out the initial details of the shooting, I immediately thrust myself back into a frenzied race to keep the conference flowing. I was no longer snide nor short with those I encountered – I in fact had little to say at all. As the day wore on, I would check back to see what more had developed in regard to Virginia Tech. Each time I went to the BBC news site my heart winced more and more.
The tragedy echoed in me as my head battled my heart throughout the rest of the day. Continually my thoughts reverted to Virginia as I listened to our distinguished guests speak from both scholarly and practical viewpoints alike about the depth of the human capacity for inflicting pain and suffering – how they come to be capable of it from a psychological perspective (that is, the process of “othering”); the political dimension of the allowance of violence from the state and individuals alike; the legitimacy of violence, and its role as coercive and controlling mechanism; the primeval nature of human interaction; etc. Dr. Richard Falk, a tremendously kind and wise Yale Emeritus professor stated the enormity of there even being a dialogue about what we call human rights today – citing the fact that the notion was laughable before World War II. However, he was careful to somberly note that, unfortunately, it continues to be a laughable topic as evidenced by the continuity of heinous acts of hatred and violence between human beings on both large and small scales.
Another dimension of this depravity of the human spirit was shown to me later in the week and unto today. I was taken a bit ill Thursday morning and have been in and out the hospital since then (don’t worry – I’m fine). From the moment I entered into our healthcare system I was exposed to the deep ravines of inaqequcy, and what a radical mind such as myself would call outirght malevolence that persist in the provision of healthcare (which is of course a global concern). I will not go into the detail of my mistreatment herein, nor shall I dispell the details of the mistreatment of others that I saw, as such things need not be printed quite yet. But I assure you, my heart aches and is heavy in response to miniscule fraction of the total suffering that results from poor access and quality of healthcare. Dearest friends – my family – I bore direct witness to the systemic abuses of humankind that go on every day. Our broken healthcare system represents a fundamental perversion, derision, and compelte digression away from those values upon which we base our lives – compassion, dignity, and justice are all but absent in this mighty system that bleeds into so many other insitutions. The antithesis of compassion that we saw that Monday morning is repeated constantly in this sense – in the debased dehumanization of individuals day to day through denying them the most fundamental component of life..their health. Those within the system and those without it, us included, perpetuate the system whether through action or inaction according to the seemingly impossible prospect of reform. The tragedy on Monday was shocking and random – yet there is a widespread, systemically enacted harm carried out against individuals every day according to this broken tie between health and money.That young man killed 33 people in one day through direct, cognizant action. Yet how many are killed each day because of the selfish negligence of our healthcare system at home – not to fathom the health crisis abroad?
The question began to brew in my heart that has been ever present, but never well articulated.
Why do men like Dr. Falk have to state, with tears in their eyes, that human beings in our otherwise splendorous age continue to incur unspeakable suffering upon one another? How long will we have to have these discussions amongst one another? Why, and moreover how, can one human being reduce another to nothing?
Why does man seek to hurt his brother?
I went home troubled and humbled, all amid exhaustion. Even so, I was unable to sleep. A very wise old friend of mine once told me that there comes a day in every individual’s life when the of world and all its suffering bear so heavily upon him that sleep will become evasive is not altogether impossible. I think this is true for many of us. But in my naivete, and in his wisdom, he would never give me an answer to the question I posed in response to his insight – that is, what good are these frustrations, pains and outcries if we have not the means nor perhaps the real desire to translate them into action? Lost sleep may be noble (or ignoble, its of no matter), but it is to no end if it does not manifest into some palpable attempt to dissuade from that suffering in the most menial way. He responded by telling me that I must answer the suffering in my own heart before I have the audacity to begin addressing it in others. His quizzical non-answer frustrates me to this day, but also continues to be one of the greatest insights that I have ever been blessed with. Weight
For me, it is the hope that BTC represents that lets me rest. And it is that hope, compassion and unrelenting passion for justice and the prevalence of love over hate that I believe BTC embodies, and uses to respond to the questions that pound in my heart, and the stalemate my head. There are no answers to those questions that raged in me on Monday the 16th. And there is nor formula for how to change the state of the world. But I feel certain, shaken to the core my principles and being, that the way to begin is to have a true dedication in our hearts to love over hate, and compassion over suffering. That is the most rudimentary manifestation of a reaction to the sleeplessness for me, and each day I learn more and more just how little I understand of compassion and love. It is that humility and striving for betterment that is palpable – it is real. And what I have found in BTC is solidarity in that sentiment in such a raw and genuine way that it often overwhelms me to think about, much less be in the midst of. Every BTC project that I have been blessed enough to be a part of, from Seva to free hugs, has been saturated with that humble notion of service through self-transformation. From what I understand of the Walk For Hope, it is the essence of this feeling, this commitment.
We are proactively creating a different paradigm than the world would like to make us think we live in; we continually are joining with all those out there who know there is something greater in humanity than we saw on Monday April 16th, 2007, or September 11th, 2001, or August 6th, 1945 – or any given day, in any given place on this earth, for that matter. For every cruelty there can be love; for every injustice there can be rectitude and compassion; for every failing of the human spirit there can be hope in its strength and goodness. I believe that is what we are doing here, now, and together, and I believe that it is one of the most powerful forces in existence. Again, the formula for change is far removed for me to speculate upon, but in my deepest and clearest heart I know that it begins with this.