Taking a Breath

The longer I live, the more it becomes apparent that my greatest responsibility is to love my neighbor. The longer I live, the more I see and feel the importance of working to remind my heart to see beyond a single action or word or belief; to understand that it comes from a place that I haven’t experienced; to see, respect and love the humanity that resides there (even when it is not always easily visible).

This is of course much easier to accomplish when I’m comfortable—at school, or around the people I know and have a reason to try to love, or with people who make it easy to love them. But as my friend and pastor, Chris Fryou, often points out, loving your neighbor most certainly also includes loving those that feel most difficult to love (the definition of those that feel difficult to love changes, I think, by the person as we all have our own safe spaces, comfort zones, and belief systems).

Today, I am uncomfortable. Today, I feel sick. Today, loving those individuals who feel and express the depths of their hatred for other human beings both vehemently and violently is my challenge and I’m failing miserably at seeing past what hurts so much.

Please do not mistake my words here. I take no issue with peaceful public displays of opinion and disagreement—with the lawful exercising of first amendment rights—even and especially of those that I don’t see eye to eye with. This kind of civil disobedience and the freedom to take part in it are a vibrant and important thread in the fabric of this nation. I believe that when we pull that thread, or even threaten to, the whole tapestry begins to unravel.

No, what I am struggling with is finding a way to extend a loving heart to a group of people who gathered together with the sole purpose of doing just the opposite…who gathered together with the insidious intent to intimidate those they hate, to incite fear, to illustrate boldly the vastness and totality of their hatred for entire groups of human beings on this planet as though the world has no means to support difference…who gathered knowingly to hurt other people (either in words or action or both).

How am I supposed to rise above the sickness and disdain that are simmering in my heart as I see these pictures and hear these stories? How, in my hurt and anger, do I stop hatred from rising in my own heart? How do I let love for others, even those I don’t know how to extend it towards, win me over and carry my actions just as much, if not more than they spur on my words? How do I accept that while I may not be able to ameliorate, to dissolve the hate in their hearts, I still must work to prove that hate is never an acceptable means of expression?

And then I think of the young people preparing to enter my classroom next week and the importance of the example I model for them…the importance of maintaining, as I’ve mentioned before, the ideal of “radical humanity” as a lens through which I plan my lessons (and live my life). And suddenly these questions reduce to one that is pretty simple—how do I not?

I talk to my students all of the time about digging deeper. I usually mean this in regard to some literary work or into whatever subject matter it is that they are writing about. It is a call to think beyond the superficial and to seek what isn’t so easily observed at first glance. A call not to be fooled by what appears simple and singular (by something like hatred) but to think further in search of truth, meaning and depth.

Increasingly these days, digging deeper takes on greater significance as something much more than representative of strong literary analysis. Despite offering a release from the burden and negativity of judgment, “digging deeper” becomes even more complicated when we are put in the position, as we are today, of witnessing to the truth of humanity rather than simply demonizing those who try to deny it—for in demeaning and diminishing we sink rather than rise…for in reciprocating their hatred, we reveal the worst of ourselves rather than the best and we become that which we are railing against.

Hatred always deems itself righteous, which is why it can be expressed so powerfully—it always feels justified. We cannot justify our hatred of those who hate. The emotion is the same no matter the reasoning behind it and it is the easier method of relief to reach for. Or, at least it seems to be. Until we have realized that our hearts are still sick and our hatred has resolved nothing.

We must seek love instead—even and especially when it is hard. We must allow it to catalyze our actions and reactions. It will be difficult at times. We will grow weary. But we will carry on knowing that the only way to heal hate is with love (and that begins in our own hearts).

I walk into my classroom this week not with a political agenda. I don’t need my students to think the way I do about the world or about politics. I don’t need them to agree with me. But we all have to live in this world together and as a teacher of students who will vote in the next election and who are our future decision makers, I feel it is imperative that they, at the very least, walk away from a year in my classroom understanding that hate is never an option. So we will have some difficult and courageous conversations…and we won’t always know how to feel about them…but we will always be working toward understanding, toward empathy, toward respecting others simply because they are human beings on this planet and we honor that.

Today though, on my own and in solitude, I am working on my heart. Today, I am seeking ways to love. Today, I will pray.

“Choose” by Carl Sandburg

“Jerusalem” by Naomi Shihab Nye


3 thoughts on “Taking a Breath”

  1. Jesus got angry, however it was “righteous anger” …against injustice perpetrated towards people, especially those who were on the margins of life. If we have the eyes of Jesus, it should make us angry as well …to speak out and risk everything. Like Jesus, like Ganhdi …we constantly hold a mirror up to that injustice with love.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this idea of seeing with the eyes of Jesus “to speak out and risk everything.” I think I have just been feeling like I needed to be able to do so without hatred in my heart darkening my motives. Thank you, Chris!


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