I turned on instagram yesterday, and the first thing I saw was a woodcut print of a woman pointing a gun in my face. I vowed long ago not to support artists/promoters who use such a shocking and cruel image. The image of a gun in my face, in all our faces, wounds me. So I quickly turned that thread off.
It wasn’t til later that day I heard about the shootings in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Today on twitter I saw a list of those who died from Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg:
Joyce Feinberg, 75
Richard Gottfried, 65
Rose Mallinger, 97
Jerry Rabinowitz, 66
Cecil Rosenthal, 59
David Rosenthal, 54
Bernice Simon, 84
Sylvan Simon, 86
Daniel Stein, 71
Melvin Wax, 88
Irving Younger, 69
May their memories push us to create a world that values every life.
I’ve read about the shootings, the perpetrator, the president’s statements, the former president’s statements, the anguish, and the theories.
When people say having a gun, arming more people would help stop these slayings and violations, I think of Philando Castile, pulled over for a traffic violation, and killed for trying to show his license to carry. No gun in his hand. Killed by a man who was supposed to protect him, an officer of the laws that Castile followed. Executed for a traffic stop.
Should we have security guards in our temples, synagogues and churches? I don’t think it would help. Attackers use the element of surprise. Banks have security in all it’s many forms, but they still get robbed.
A life is such a precious thing. I try to imagine what the 97 year old woman had seen in her life, the antisemitism, the hope of safety, the illusion of safety. To be slaughtered at a baby naming ceremony in her synagogue — who could imagine such a thing could happen in the land of the free?
And what stories, what wisdom, humor, complexity — what loss have we suffered from all these souls being taken brutally from us?
Even when you don’t know a victim, a person who has died takes with them something from us, from our world. It’s a collective loss — that’s why we cry at the death of people we don’t know — even fictional people in movies, plays and books.
Should we arm our places of spiritual comfort?
I think of the word arms, our arms, our open arms, the open arms of places of worship, that are meant to provide a safe haven, an embrace.
In Jackson Brown’s song, The Long Way Around, from 2014, he says
“The seeds of tragedy are there
In what we feel we have the right to bear
To watch our children come to harm
There in the safety of our arms.
With all we disagree about
The passions burn
The heart goes out.”
Lots of play on the meaning of words in that song.
I think we’ve all lost some of the meaning of to live and let live, to build a nation from many cultures, to let our hearts go out to many cultures — to people seeking safety, peace and way to support their families. I see too many hearts going out, extinguished by fear, which cultivates hatred. Fear and hatred and the need to blame — all very human emotions and all very much exploited by politicians.
I don’t usually use my blog or social media to talk about the violence that continues to grow in our nation. Many are doing a better job than I could. I try to keep promoting art, love, wisdom. I try to keep my eye on what good is growing in our world. What people are creating. How much progress we’ve made in some aspects of human rights.
I had a friend in college who was beaten to death for being gay. I think of all the strides that have been made in gay rights, the laws that have been changed. I wish he was still here to see it. And to fight the bigotry that is growing in reaction to it.
I know this kind of violence still goes on. Minorities, immigrants, people who are different, we’re all still subject to violence for simply being. It’s horrible, but I believe we’ve made advances and will continue to, in spite of this hate that’s grown up around us.
After each of these mass shootings, I wonder if evil has won. The guns, the hateful rhetoric, the territorialism, the terrorism. Generations have grown up homeless, in families suffering with addiction, in neighborhoods where no one is safe from gangs or the police.
The tree of life is being overshadowed, denied light, by the tree of evil. I see everywhere the glorification of guns, even in art, that place of safety for me.
Then I see things like the Carpenter Garden, a neighborhood planting and cultivating good — art and bike shops and gardens. There will always be those who grow toward the light, in spite of long dark shadows that try to stunt our growth.
Mother Jones said, “Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living.” That was nearly a century ago.
I think in these times, we must love, not blindly, but with intent. We must work to make a garden that captures the light and turns it into sustenance. We can’t give in to despair, though we definitely have to make time for it.
Like mourning, we have to make time for it, and cry and wonder what the hell is going on with our fellow humans.
Then we have to water and weed our garden. Stand in the light, invite others to join us — reach, teach, create. We can’t let the bastards grind us down.
If we continue to water and revere the tree of life, then that invasive weed of evil will have less power, and one day, I hope and pray, will be extinguished all together.
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