Shootings, random killings, and horrific terrorist attacks are in the news almost daily, and if there is not a new event, we hear yet more commentary on the most recent. I am in danger of not even wanting to know. I already limit my exposure to the stories, by avoiding images and ignoring repeated news broadcasts.
It is perhaps understandable, but nevertheless unfortunate for the message it sends, that the Canadian media give more coverage to incidents that occur in what we think of as the Western world; places that feel more “like us.” I was clearly aware of this bias when last week the young German man attacked others in a Munich shopping mall. I have been to Munich many times with my husband who travelled there for work. I know it well enough to have frequented places mention in the reports, not the actual shooting site, rather high points in city centre like the Haufbrau House – a place of great joy and celebration – Oktoberfest year round!
I felt this particular shooting in a more visceral way, more personally. It makes me only begin to imagine what it must be like for the victims of racist behaviour (violence), especially in our neighbouring country to the south. But lest we feel superior, that sort of thing happens in Toronto as well. I heard a short CBC radio clip of a black man who described how his aunt, who has a well paying evening job and drives a nice car, has been stopped many time on her way to and from work by the Toronto police, who ask who owns the car she is driving. No one has ever stopped me and asked me that question or any other. I never fear being stopped, unless I know I have committed an obvious traffic violation.
All of this can lead to the perception that our world is becoming less safe. Republican nominee DT (I can’t bear to have his full name on my web-site) appears to have made it his personal mission to have Americans believe this to be true, and he will stir up the hate to make it a reality.
I refuse to live my life in fear. Thankfully, living in downtown Toronto, I don’t think I need to. However, I know that many who live outside of downtown think there is much to be afraid of where I live. This is not my experience.
I have been asking myself “What can I do to make a difference? How can I not get caught up in to this communal fear?”
I know that my daily spiritual practices help me stay grounded. Reading the words of others reassures me that I am not alone in my way of seeing things, and that there are alternative ways of being, doing and experiencing the world than those experienced through our “media”.
Can I also be an agent for peace and justice in my own neighbourhood? I find this easier in the early morning when I go out and there are not as many on the street. I look at strangers as I pass them. I smile and say good morning. It is a delight to see a smile break out on a face. There are several folks I see on my bike ride to early-morning yoga, and we now feel like friends as we pass and acknowledge one another almost daily.
When I go through the cash desk at the local stores or ask for help, I really look at the person and sometimes engage in social chit-chat to let them know I see them.
I do give money to those who ask for change. I know all the reasons why not to, but I do it anyway. If I don’t happen to have any, I look at them and tell them I’m sorry.
Years ago my daughter had to spend 48 hours on the street as part of training to work with street youth. She had twenty-five cents for an emergency call but otherwise had to ask for help. She did not have a cell phone. She recounted that one of the hardest things was being so completely ignored, as if she did not even exist, as people walked by.
Yesterday afternoon, after I had written some of this and set it aside, I went for a walk in my neighbourhood to get some exercise. As I was coming down the tree-lined street towards my lane, I was catching up to a mother whose three children were lagging behind touching and observing the various plants, fences, anything that caught their attention. As I came alongside to pass the mother and one of the little girls, about 4 or 5 who held her hand, I smiled and the child looked up at me and said:
“You’re very beautiful.”
I responded with a huge grin:
“Why thank you. You too are very very pretty and beautiful, and you look even prettier in that dress.”
By now mom had stopped, the others kids caught up. I continued:
“I’m Anne, what is your name?”
“ Her middle name is Anne.” her mother offered as her daughter said
I put out my hand to shake hers,
“Isobel Anne, such a lovely name.”
By now her brother and sister were clamouring to proudly tell me their full names. It was a sweet moment. As we continued walking to the end of my lane, Isobel said:
“And I like your pink pants.” Again I smiled and told her,
“Yes, they match your pink shoes!”
As I walked away I let this moment of grace wash over me, even though it occurred to me that what little Isobel really thought was beautiful was my pink hat, pants and multicoloured shirt.
On a completely different note when I arrived back at my computer screen an email offered this timely quote – another brief moment of grace:
“We began before words, and we will end beyond them. It sometimes seems to me that our days are poisoned with too many words. Words said and not meant. Words said and meant. Words divorced from feeling. Wounding words. Words that conceal. Words that reduce…I think we need more of the wordless in our lives. We need more stillness, more a sense of wonder, a feeling for the mystery of life. We need more love, more silence, more deep listening, more deep giving . . .
Ben Okri, Birds of Heaven
What do you have to give to bring a little more light to your corner of the world?