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.
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