I am struggling to make some kind of sense out of recent events. I wish that I could say that “recent” referred to just the past week, or even the past month. The sad and unfortunate truth is that the “recent” I’m talking about encompasses the past several years, at least. Try as I might, there are pieces of reality which just will not reconcile; there are pieces of life’s fractured edges which refuse to be aligned.
Thirteen days ago, a man murdered two people in a grocery store parking lot. Ten days ago, a man walked into a synagogue and murdered eleven people and injured six others. Four days ago, a man entered a yoga studio, murdered two people, injured five others, and then killed himself. Each of these killings was motivated by hatred: hatred of race, hatred of religion, and hatred of women.
Hatred is not new; within some people, so many people, it seems, hatred has always bubbled just below a veneer of politeness. I, like most people I know, am disturbed by the unabashed expression of hatred that has increased in frequency over these past several years.
Shortly after the massacre at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, the American Jewish Committee launched an initiative called “Show Up For Shabbat.” Temples across the US advertised that their doors would be open to any and all who wanted to attend, regardless of faith, as a show of support for both regular attendees, and the greater concept of freedom of religion.
Last Saturday, I showed up for Shabbat. The congregation in my hometown holds services Friday nights, but only once a month on Saturday mornings. Last Saturday was not the Saturday, so, I traveled a few towns over to attend a service.
When I arrived at the synagogue, I was greeted by a police officer who wished me a good morning, with a smile. I wished him a good morning in return, a little shiver going down my spine as I did so.
I am used to police. Not in the way that most people might be used to police — my dad is a retired police officer, and at least two of my brothers are police officers. I have been around police officers a good portion of my life. I am not automatically scared of police, nor frightened that they are around. I am used to the weapons police carry, and trained in the proper ways to use them.
But this time was different. This time was different because I wasn’t spending time with my dad and his friends, or my big brothers. This time was different because of a specific threat; this time was different because of the actions of a hate-filled man just one week prior.
The service, was, of course, beautiful. If you have never had the opportunity to participate in a Shabbat service, I encourage you to visit a local congregation. Their doors are always open to anyone who wishes to attend. After the service, a traditional kiddush was made with wine and warm challah. Those closest to the challah touched the loaves, then the people behind them put one hand on the shoulder of one of those touching the challah, and so on with everyone putting one hand on the shoulder of the one closer than they, until everyone in the congregation was connected.
We are all connected.
Leaving the synagogue, the same officer stood, alert, scanning the surroundings. I wondered if the city had dispatched him, or whether the congregation had to pay the city to have someone stand watch over the site that is supposed to be guaranteed by the First Amendment to be a place where they can worship freely.
He looked at me, smiled, and said, “Have a good day.”
“Thank you,” I managed to croak, my throat clutching the words tightly, as if the same muscles that were holding my tears behind my eyes were also stifling my voice. It was all wrong.
It is all wrong.
No one minding their own business should have to worry about being shot while they are in a house of worship. No one minding their own business should have to worry about being shot in a grocery store parking lot. No one minding their own business should have to worry about being shot at a yoga studio. No one minding their own business should have to worry about being shot at their job. No one minding their own business should have to worry about their children being shot at school. No one minding their own business should have to worry about being shot at the movies, at a concert, or at a nightclub. No one minding their own business should have to worry about being shot while they are pulled over for a simple traffic violation.
No one minding their own business should have to worry about being shot for the color of their skin, their religious practice, or their sex or sexual orientation or gender identity.
No one minding their own business should have to worry about being shot.
I don’t have a lot of power, and I don’t have a lot of answers. But what I can do is take the power I do have, and cast my ballot for those I believe will work toward reasonable, viable solutions. What I can do is take the power that I do have, and talk to people who are different from me, and make connections with them. What I can do is take the power that I do have, and teach the children in my life that we are more alike than different, and that our strength as a community lies in those differences. These are some of the things that I can do, and you can do them, too.
Because, try as I might, there are pieces of reality which just will not reconcile; there are pieces of life’s fractured edges which refuse to be aligned.
I’m At a Loss.
As always, your thoughtful comments and questions are welcome.