I saw the video in a hotel room in Council Bluffs. My husband follows news with an enthusiasm I have long since lost, so I was puttering around trying to arrange things without actually unpacking anything – not a surprise for those of you who followed my posts on sabbatical. The announcer’s voice took on that somber tone that is intended to convey that the next statement is one they would prefer to repress, but as guardians of the public’s best interest (and the financial returns of their stockholders) they are going to tell us anyway…with every last ounce of sincerity and dignified restraint anyone in the media still possesses.
The very short video clip played at least a half-dozen times in the minute it took the announcer to tell us that they would return to this breaking news as soon as they had further information. It was horrifying to watch a security guard tip a young female teen backwards out of her chair and drag her across the classroom before subduing her with handcuffs. It was horrifying to watch the teacher and other students stand or sit without intervening in any way. And it has taken me a long time to process my own response to what I could see of the event in the tiny snippet of initial video and then a second tiny snippet from another cell phone that played later.
The next day in the car, my normally savvy husband asked, “Why, oh why didn’t she just get up and go with him [the security guard]?” And I said, without even pausing to think about it, “I wouldn’t have, even as a white teenager. I wouldn’t have left a room with witnesses for a hallway that might be empty.” “Oh,” he said. “I never thought of that.” For my part, I couldn’t get over my distress that no one went to her aid…until I realized everyone else I could see in the room was a young black male – even the teacher – and young black males have been having a particularly fraught year in any interaction with persons in uniforms. And this person in a uniform seemed pretty angry and out-of-control.
People are all over the map on this one, and the conversations are more than a little heated. I would simply observe that if this had been someone’s dog, the ASPCA would have been flooded with calls and there would have been no talk at all of ‘extenuating circumstances.’ There is plenty of blame to go around here and it is human to want to point the finger at whoever was ‘wrong’. But I have come to the realization that the only person I am willing to point a finger at is myself…
…because today I snapped at my husband. This was not a screaming, fist-pounding fight by any means. I said something snippy and mean-spirited and then I rolled my eyes. And after he had gone off to the Y and I had gone off to mail a letter, I thought, “Really? You really needed to say that? It’s okay for you to be angry – just not anyone else? Really? So who is responsible for prejudice and violence? Who really?”
Maybe I haven’t ever thrown anyone across a room (I haven’t), but I can distinctly remember an occasion in my teens when I threw a friend under the bus (so to speak). If I want a world of respect and peace, it is going to have to start with me – as trite as that sounds – because I am the only person I can change. And as long as I am angry and judgmental, that hostility will be in the world. Sure, I can look at terrorists of any stripe in any country and think, ‘That isn’t me.’ I can hear a parent yell at a child in a grocery line and feel grateful I never did that with my daughter. I can read about police violence and believe we, as citizens, need to put a stop to the embattled attitude and behavior (other countries show it can be done.) And all of that is true. We do need to work on communal belief systems that foster violence.
But the person I need to work on first and work on steadily and never stop working on is me. Until I can resist my own anger with holy patience, the full shalom of the universe will not arrive and peace will remain out of reach.
Samhain is the season when we plumb the deepest wisdom. It is the season when we are stripped down to our spiritual essence in the same way the trees are stripped down to their bare bones. It is the season in which we come to center, to the place of the divine presence within us. It looks like my work this Samhain is clear and unequivocal. I hope you will join me in facing gently, but firmly, into our own places of anger, fear, and prejudice. I hope you will join me in some holy resistance to the small-mindedness and mean-heartedness of our unending supply of grumps and grouches and grudges. I hope you will join me in invoking humor and celebrating compassion – because both are wonderful antidotes to taking ourselves (and our opinions, our desires, our agendas) too seriously.
In that hope, may you welcome the new year, the clean slate, the chance to begin again.
Text © 2015, Andrea La Sonde Anastos
Photos © 2015 Immram Chara, LLC
Note: The first photo is a roadside shrine in Ireland, the second is from the Chalice Well in Glastonbury (England). The final photo is my newest icon: Immram: Wisdom (inspired by the legend of Bradan Feasa from Ireland.) It is now available in the Etsy shop.