The peace of my recent time in the American countryside helps calm me as I return to Canada and the city, and try to process the tragedy in Orlando and the accompanying rhetoric of hate and fear. All around us, these small, silent worlds of nature exist, where diversity is the defining characteristic that gives harmony and richness to the whole. Nature has so much to teach us, but too often we fail to look, to slow down; we resist becoming humble and meek enough to see ourselves as part of these worlds too -- it's easier for us to comprehend the grandeur of mountains, a fantastic sunset, flowers and trees and creatures we can name. Shunryu Suzuki wrote: "every weed is a treasure." Last weekend, the quiet time I spent with these fragile, insignificant weeds reminded me how precious and unique each being is. They gave me the strength to continue resisting hatred and despair, to keep working for justice, and opened my eyes again to beauty and gratitude.
To my dear LGBT friends: please know that I not only continue to stand with you, but will try to do even more to ensure justice and equality for all. And to my friends of color and especially you of Middle Eastern/Near Eastern ethnic origins or Islamic faith, please know that I will continue to speak out against hatred, profiling, scapegoating, and oppression. Most of all, I pledge not to become numb, not to forget, and to take care of myself so that I can function in the difficult emotional and political environment in which we find ourselves.
On Saturday, I attended a Quaker memorial service for a close family friend. It was held in a roofed pavilion, open on three sides, in a sun-bathed field; about a hundred people sat in circles facing inward, and out of the collective silence, broken only by the occasional call of a crow and the sound of the wind, individuals rose to speak in memory of a woman, very dear to me, who had worked quietly and steadily all her life for the equality of women, for peace, and for justice, in spite of many personal difficulties. Through the recollections of others, I learned a lot about her that I hadn't even realized. The calm steadiness of that gathering also stayed with me the next day, when we learned of the attack in Florida. Her life -- and the possibility of each of our lives to make a difference -- stood as a counterpoint to the violence, and rhetoric of fear, hatred, and vengeance.
All of this took place in a conservative part of New York State, where the economy is depressed, jobs have vanished, family farms are disappearing, and many people are anxious, depressed, and hopeless. Not surprisingly, populist candidates appeal. In spite of the fact that Hillary had been their Senator, Bernie won the Democratic primary there, and in almost all the rural counties of New York - but there are more registered Republicans than Democrats in this area, and Trump won handily in the Republican primary. I saw a lot of Trump signs, both the official printed kinds erected on lawns, and also homemade ones fixed to posts or placed on buildings: "Vote President Trump," "Make America Great Again." In talking to a fairly wide variety of people -- family, friends, and strangers -- I sensed both anger and anxiety, regardless of their political persuasions.
It's easy to despair and feel helpless in times like these, when justice seems very far away and violence seems ever-present, both in sequential tragic events and as a persistent thread of response. But I think our first responsibility is to take care of ourselves so that we can, like the woman whose life we were celebrating, continue to work quietly and steadily out of a strong personal philosophy and shared collective sense of what is right - not just for now, but for the longterm. Even if justice for all can't arrive in our lifetime, we have to keep our eyes on that prize, just as so many people have done before us.
It's important to develop that inner philosophy and a community of ties to others for support and collective action, but we also have to learn how to care for ourselves when we feel drained, assaulted, and powerless. Each of us has multiple wells that we can go to for restoration, but ironically it's when we feel the worst that it's hardest to remember them, or go there intentionally. Maybe it's music, or nature, or a particular place; maybe it's prayer or meditation, or talking to friends or reading certain books: it doesn't matter. What matters is that we take our own emotional temperature and do the self-care we need to do so that we can be restored to positive energy, and find ways to continue.
I wonder what you do, what you need? And I also wonder how we can help each other better. Because one thing is certain: love is what matters most in this world, and we absolutely must find ways to love ourselves, the world, and each other even more.