- found on a wall at the United Nations Building, New York City
“Courage faces fear and thereby masters it. Cowardice represses fear and is thereby mastered by it. Courageous men never lose the zest for living even though their life situation is zestless; cowardly men, overwhelmed by the uncertainties of life, lose the will to live. We must constantly build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear.” ~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
My 6-year-old son heard news on radio of America bombing a village with women and children in it. He asked me, “America did that?” I said yes, America did. He said, “But I am America. I didn’t do that. It wasn’t me?” He held a question in his voice that pierced my heart. He said, “I wouldn’t do that!”
My heart flooded. Emotions I have been trying to avoid moved piercingly from my stomach to my heart and my throat. He saw as I felt tears roll down my cheeks.
I hugged him and said, “I know, me too. I am America too. It is so very sad.”
from the UN’s Universal Declaration of Rights
Our worldwide news and fears are immensely difficult to explain and process, to adults let alone young children.
So many of us seek to understand things that perhaps are not understandable or even to be understood.
In my heart I know I am America and I cannot withhold my heart and love from others who want to be America too.
Throughout our modern history, it has taken courage and tremendous human suffering to be and become America.
As I contemplate our future America, I wonder what would happen if America committed to collective courage and chose not to respond in actions, but to respond in love? What would happen if our government issued a formal “Love Letter” to the people who intend us pain, instead of bombs and more pain?
Risking appearing naive, I ask you to think and feel about this. What could that letter look like? I’m not suggesting sending a love letter in support of continued suffering, but rather a letter honoring the potential of a greater humanity, challenging them to rise to love.
A few years ago I went on a retreat where I found myself in the middle of a self-defense training. I hadn’t expected this, but I have curiosity for many things so I was curious to see what would happen.
The course leader began an attack demonstration with me. I was advised to stop her with my stance and my reaction. She challenged me and rushed at me in attack mode–with pain, ferocity and intensity in her eyes and body.
Even though I felt afraid, my first inclination was to open my arms to embrace her, even though she looked like she was about to hurt me.
I didn’t. I didn’t act with love. In that moment, my fear of others’ perception of me was greater than my convictions. Instead I tried to summon the stance and replicate the “hutt” noise she had demonstrated.
My imitation failed. My instincts still strong about the hug and smile thing, but again the risk of others’ poorly judging and criticizing me dominated my actions.
Love was never suggested as an appropriate response.
Again, the trainer came at me. This time I decided to sing opera, loudly. She didn’t like that either. Everyone else in our group laughed.
She came at me, over and over and I kept trying to find a response that would stop her, but I never could get it right, at least by her counsel or expectations. Indeed I did break her patterns, and surprise her.
For a few moments after the exercise–as she was pretend attacking others in the training–I was concerned that I was not aggressive or self-protective enough… that somehow my own safety was in jeopardy because I didn’t naturally have a fierce defensive barking response to protect me.
As days passed after that weekend, I realized that for me, my instinctual path of defense was love. To me, love was the most natural and centered response. Perhaps love would get me killed, but still, it feels like the most authentic way to be true to my own energy and the way I want to survive.
- Strawberry Fields, New York City
I don’t think it my place to say that LOVE should be ALL of our first responses, but–as real as that feels in me as my own truth–I deeply wonder and imagine our world when the majority of humans find courage to choose love instead of more pain infliction.
I am an American immigrant. I came to this country in the 1970s. I became a US citizen by choice and conviction to choose America as my home and values, the place to birth and raise my children. I chose America because I believe we are a country that chooses to honor, respect and celebrate our differences.
As I look at my son, a child of the earth–American as his birthright– my American heart is wide open.
I hold steadfast courage and love in my convictions while intensely feeling the fear of the unknown and the unknowable. I can only take responsibility for my own actions.
I love America. I love all Americans. I love Americans who believe peace is the way through the fear. I love Americans who believe harming people who hurt “us” is the best way to love and protect our country. (I don’t condone or agree, but still as an American it is my obligation to love and respect them while respectfully disagreeing.)
I am grateful to be American. I am grateful for all the people–seen and unseen generations– all who have suffered and suffer still–who have brought us to this moment in history, a moment that has such possibility for love and courage.
I imagine we humans are becoming a bit more evolved. (Did you just notice the word LOVE is in there, nearly twice? I did.)
I pray sharing my story and words create ripples of love and contemplation, not division or pain. I don’t have the answers for anyone, except to commit to grow myself as a real aging–hopefully wisen-ing– contemplative thoughtful contributor to our new America.
(As a writer, sometimes I find enough courage to share my inner world outside of myself, despite my fears. Thank you for reading.)
with my courageous, aching, imaginative, yearning and love-filled eager-to-evolve heart,
4 thoughts on “my new american courage”
You’re prey, a victim waiting to be used by predator. That’s actually, to my mind at least, not an intrinsically bad thing. You’re the sort I was bred, born, and raised to shelter and protect and, as such, I rather hope you keep your faith and ideals.
That being said, it does behoove you to neither disparage the rough men and women who allow you through their sacrifice – up to and including their souls – to keep being what you are, nor to raise your children to do so.
Thank you for taking time to comment, Jonolan. Interesting to regard me as prey, as the self defense trainer led with predator/prey lineage that day.
A few questions stir: What happens when we run out of prey and predators? Or change our values to no longer accept this control or suffering? What happens when humans no longer see ourselves as separate from each other, but truly connected and equal? What happens if there is a way for us to evolve as species to become a humane humanity that allows all humans to live without harming or threatening each other? What happens if the game you and I are both in could be finally over and won by creating a new way to live harmonically, at the expense or sacrifice of no human?
I respect your opinion. You said it behooves me not to disparage, and I hope that is a reflection of my post where I do not disparage anyone.
I remark at our use of words prey and pray.
Poor Sonshine! In a way, I wish I still felt his horror that America would do that, but over the last 20 years it has become our status quo, and I have bizarrely come to accept it as such. My heart changed at 9/11 to view “attack” as an acceptable alternative, but that’s not an excuse to accept committing violence over and over. Poor all of us.
Thank you for sharing, Chris. Poor all of us, indeed. I don’t know the answers but want to keep holding the questions.