On Fear and Love

Where do I begin? I am confused and hurt. So many people are right now. More people shot and killed in the United States – my home. These people were gay and they were people of color and they were celebrating who they were and they were gunned down. And this is happening when we also have continuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. We have refugees from Syria and ISIS terror – refugees who too many people don’t see as people but as political pawns or monsters. We have political candidates – yes, more than one – who use race and gender and sexuality and ability and other aspects of identity and life to label and exclude and ridicule. We have hunger here at home in a land of plenty as well as around the world. We have a tendency – much too strong – to care more about the people we can see and the people who look like us and to reject the concerns of anyone else. We look for easy answers in sound bites. And the biggest problem is that we think we find them.

And each one of us has individual problems. As I struggle emotionally with all of these things, I wish I knew how to be a better activist. I wish I knew how not to worry about my small problems. My chronic pain seems to prevent me from doing so much. My massive debt and all the time it takes to manage a small budget to avoid it getting too much worse prevents me from contributing much financially to the causes I care about.

I wish I didn’t feel so alone. I’ve never had what I call “real” friends. No one calls me just for fun. I don’t have people in my life who want to do things with me. I’ve never understood why. Magazines might tell me that this is because I’m not thin or the right kind of pretty. That hurts, but it doesn’t hurt as much as thinking I’m just not good enough to have “real” friends. Everyone can feel alone. And because I do, I often feel like I don’t have much political power, but I want to do something. I join groups. I sign petitions. I will do this more. I will write more, because this is the only power that I know that I have right now. And there is one more. I am angry and hurt. I am so gladdened that I know so many people on social media who are angry and hurt too. They are not apologists for acts of terror. They are not looking the other way. And more importantly they care about people every day. They care about people of color. They care about gay people. They care about Muslim people. They care about refugees. They care about people who are suffering. Every. Day. Not just when the news says it is time to care. And they make their voices heard. They are active. Much more so than I. And I learn from them. They make me a better person.

This anger and hurt is powerful. And I am hearing it calling for new policies. I am hearing it as a clarion call for real, substantive change. What I want to say is something uncomfortable. I want to say that I still believe in radical love. What does that mean? I think it means being ready to be against people’s ideas and actions and still value their lives. That is hard. And I mean that both for the people who aim the weapons and the politicians who protect them. I don’t think we need a national conversation about guns. It isn’t working. We need a national conversation about the underlying issue – it is the issue that is at the heart of all of this: race, gender, sexuality (and more) – and that is fear. We need to start talking about what it is that we each fear. We need to be vulnerable and real with each other. Right now we are talking (yelling) past each other. We do not have shared values. And because of this we cannot demonstrate respect for each other.

I am terribly guilty of this. Part of me just wishes all these people who think differently from me would just go away. I don’t wish ill of them, but couldn’t they just magically evaporate. I don’t want to think about how hard and how long it will take to have meaningful conversations. I don’t want to think about how slow real change is. I don’t want to think about how uncomfortable it is to be in the same room with someone who thinks I don’t have certain rights. But then I feel the same way. I’ll be honest. I do want to take away your guns. I don’t think you have a right to a semi-automatic weapon. I understand that some people find that very threatening. I want to understand how we can protect each other. How can we find a way for each of us to feel safe? And because we aren’t having this conversation, I don’t know how we can make each other feel (and be) safe. And I’m fearful that we will never know.

Can we love everyone? Can we believe in the inherent worth and dignity and goodness in everyone – even those who have hurt others? Do we believe that every individual is redeemable? Do we want to risk seeing ourselves as fundamentally the same as those who cause pain? The line is very thin. How do we ensure that love prevails?

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