Our place in history ...

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The month of April...

Today marks the 15th year since an unrest that began April 29, 1992 on the streets of Los Angeles, went on to impact the whole of the nation. After the results of a controversial court decision became public, destruction, frustration and hatred flooded the streets. On television, in print, over the radio airwaves stories of hope, of grace, of heroism and salvation were drowned out by claims that racial difference was enough to explain crime—from petty robbery to gang warfare. Yet when the inferno smoldered away, phoenix after phoenix emerged from the ashes. Americans with roots in Asia, Latin America, Europe and Africa built houses of seven pillars, sat down at common tables and sent out the maidens of forgiveness, wisdom, and reconciliation. This was the case not only in the State of California, but in places as far away as New England, the breadbasket, the Bible belt, the Gulf Coast.

Every generation has moments that give it pause, obstacles that give it purpose, and never-concealed scars from indescribable hurts that never heal. The Greatest Generation, (titled by Tom Brokaw) barely kept its head above water when confronted by the hardships of the Great Depression, yet refused to drown even when swimming against the currents and tides of a World War driven by fascist aggression—an extended conflict of mass casualties, unsung heroes, and horrible weapons that truly began in 1936 in Spain, and not in 1939, when Hitler invaded Poland.

My grandmother, exiled across the Atlantic Ocean by the Spanish Civil War, gave life to us all despite never spilling forth the anguish of her still-broken heart. Before she died last year, she confessed that decades passed before she could listen to the roar of an airplane engine without having a panic attack. Francisco Franco directed the German allies of his fascist cause to perfect the blitzkrieg on Basque soil. A fact immortalized by Pablo Picasso’s portrait of the April 26, 1937 destruction of the most significant piece of land in any of the seven provinces of Basque territory.

Guernica was not the first or last blitzkrieg. My grandmother saw the faces of low flying assassins from many roadsides, buildings, and countrysides. Fascism relied on terror unlike anything anyone had seen before. Bombs were directed at both grieving families and bodies freshly laid to rest in exposed cemeteries where no shelter could be found. Corpses were unearthed, and fresh blood spilled upon them. I repeat. My grandmother saw the eyes of every man sent to kill her. Guernica is more than a painting. It is a reminder of how armed hate shatters us all. Yet neither fear, nor grieving can serve as motivation to move forward. My grandmother survived because her faith in God buttressed her faith in humanity, because she knew the only thing more intolerable than tyranny is unwillingness to hope audaciously for a future of justice and righteousness; the choice of inaction instead of working toward that end.

It is still too soon to do anything but mourn tragedy that robbed our family and friends in Virginia on April 16, 2007 of irreplaceable loved ones. But it does us no good to channel our grief and disgust into an anger that seeks a quick and easy outlet. It does us no good to focus on the citizenship of the assassin. He was a sick and broken young man who spent more years in this country than in any other. Accountability for his actions is now surely in the hands of God. Here on earth, it behooves us to repair each and every crevasse in the system that allowed a clear danger to himself-and-others to act on cruel, unforgivable, and empathy-less intention. But again it does us no good to dwell exclusively on any one matter, not even the place the Second Amendment holds in our contemporary understanding of Constitutionally delineated rights.

Robert Kennedy stated, “What happens to the country, to the world, depends on what we do with what others have left us.” Bobby Kennedy was no stranger to loss, to challenge, to the sometimes-frightening prospect of change, to both welcomed and uninvited transformation. But he also believed, as I do, that God is no closer or farther in difficult days than in glorious ones. This country and its people must bear a heavy mantle: a burden of greatness—both when confronted by an enemy at the gates and when facing discord inside our own house.

We must have courage. We have faced violence before. And we will face it again. But whether it begins in the form of urban unrest as it did 15 years ago in Los Angeles, another World War and Great Depression, or maniacal bloodshed at the hands of a broken individual as it did less than two weeks ago in Virginia, this nation and its people can rise. We can and we must. These events are not symbols. They are tragedies. Violence made them tragic. Violence directed by one member of the community on another. And as was the case in tragedies before, heroism ran rampant, and those with everything-to-lose stood in the path of violence, and stopped it from advancing further.

Courage is not impulsive action. Not a path paved by inflamed passion and unchecked emotion. Courage is standing fast for principle. The genuine love for humanity that moves the desire to help others, free from the defeatist attitude that we lack the energies, talents, strategies, or resources needed to meet the challenges that lay before us. Let us heal with courage. Let us not fall into the temptation of exploiting tragedy for the sake of punditry. Let us not forget to pray for patience, restraint, and compassion. And let us all have courage enough to not fall into familiar traps. No political party, no faith, culture, church, race, ethnic origin, no editorial desk, television or radio host is empowered to judge this tragedy. I call on all those who have already pointed the finger of blame, to instead open the entirety of their hands and extend them in signs of peace. This we have witnessed in Blacksburg, Virginia is violence. Senseless violence. If there is any true enemy, any pure evil, it is this. And there is no answer to violence, nothing that prevents the existence of cycles where harm begets harm, other than courage—the courage to stand as heirs of the American Revolution, Abolition, the Suffrage, and Civil Rights movements, and champion Bobby Kennedy’s words.

Homes of seven pillars will come from ashes as before. Setting common tables will help us as a people move from mourning to building in Virginia. Human dignity, our spirit and perseverance will prevail, and even greater tributes to courage will stand everlasting beckoning audacious hope for a future of justice and righteousness. May all those who shed tears be blessed with maidens of forgiveness, wisdom, and reconciliation; may we work to bestow this blessing upon every corner of this great country, and throughout the lands and seas of this ever shrinking globe.


“There are plenty of good reasons for fighting, but no good reason ever to hate without reservation, to imagine that God Almighty Himself hates with you, too."
—Mother Night

“Many people need desperately to receive this message: I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.”

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
November 11, 1922 - April 11, 2007