Orlando. I went to bed in one world and woke into another. Or maybe that’s not quite right, maybe that’s too dramatic. I went to bed in a world that is violent, that has always been violent and I woke to a world that will continue to be violent. There are violent people who have access to tools that allow them to act on their violent tendencies in a way that is out of balance to their own rage. This is not new. So I guess I went to bed in the same world that I woke up in, but maybe something shifted. With each tragedy there is the hope that something has shifted.
Was the Orlando shooter’s rage so much greater than the sum of the all the human emotion that was contained in the lives of the 49 people that he killed? No. Was it greater than the sum of their potential to love and create and expand and grow and flourish in a world that needed them? No. His rage was tiny in comparison to what his victims had to offer. And yet he had a tool that allowed his rage to quash that which was so much greater than his rage. Because he had a tool that allowed him to do so, the shooter, for three hours, acted out his twisted version of reality that told him that his rage was more important than anything else. It was not.
I want to believe that love is the answer. I want to believe that goodness will prevail. I want to believe that there is a way to solve this never-ending problem of violent people acting violently with tools that are disproportionately more powerful than their actual rage. I love life and I love people and I love so much about this world, but I admit that I feel helpless when it comes to solving this problem.
When I try to imagine the world going forward, I can’t picture it without thinking of unwinding a great spiral. The spiral of human history. At the tip of the spiral there are the weapons of war. In the last century we’ve created weapons strong enough to wipe out all of humankind and weapons powerful enough for one misguided soul to take out the lives of fifty others. And we’ve convinced ourselves that our strength lies in our weapons. It does not. To believe our strength is determined by the strength of our weapons is a colossal failure of imagination. It’s like saying that for all of the traits that humankind possesses, our ability to out-arm ourselves against our neighbors is the greatest. I don’t know how to begin unwinding this part of the spiral, but it seems like a good place to start.
Further into the spiral is the notion of sin. There are acts that harm other human beings and there are acts that do not. We need to unwind the notion that who we love, how we love, how we express our love for this life is in any way sinful if it does not harm another human. It’s a simple concept but one that seems to have us caught up in a frenzy of ridiculous bickering. Love between people is not a sin. Period. Stop calling it a sin and if your religion tells you it’s a sin, well then that’s the next thing on the spiral that needs unwinding.
Spirituality, seeking, looking for ways to live a meaningful and engaged life—those are all good things. But when rules and laws and outdated scriptures tell you that there is just one way to live a life and yet you look around and you see thousands of good people living lives that are in no way harmful to your own, it’s time to reassess the value of your religion. It may be time to let it go, or let it evolve into something else. If your religion is telling you to separate yourself from this world that you were born into, rather than be a part of its creation, you might want to consider the logic of that. It’s interesting how religious people embrace innovation and advancement in medicine, in transportation, in technology, but for many there is a stubborn refusal to innovate a religion that is outdated. At one time, burning whale blubber for light made sense. Now it does not.
There are so many layers of unwinding that I imagine, but the hope would be to unwind right down the the core of human suffering. To find the single notion, the single lie that we’ve built the rest of the spiral around, which I suspect is the idea of separation.
We are all human. Religious or atheist, gay or straight. No matter our sex or our gender or our height. No matter our IQ or our income. No matter our nation of origin or the color of our skin. We have the same capacity for goodness or badness or rage or awe. We all have the capacity to create and love. We all depend upon this one Earth for our existence.
Of course this spiral that I imagine is too big for any one person to unwind. We can’t go back in time and even so, history was not less violent than the present. So what do we do? I don’t know. I don’t claim to even begin to know. But can we see the world for what it is and decide to engage here and now with what we’ve got, mistakes and all? Can we cut through the spiral to that core of our common existence? Can we start to think more ambitiously about how to love each other and this world? Can we? Will we? How do we begin?