Contemplating Precious Human Existence

precious human existence

The last couple of weeks have been a blur. I’ve had two college class wrap up. I’ve experienced an excruciatingly busy existence at the day job. There’s been travel to Maine for a leadership retreat, then travel to Detroit for meetings with various schools. Interwoven into this fast-paced existence was the backdrop of a horrific mass killing that took place in Florida that has both broken our hearts and driven us to anger.

Over the past couple of weeks I had been doing my best to keep my head down and out of the fire of politics. The avoidance was by design. The tense situation had been bringing undue stress into my life and I needed to take care of my own mind. But life has an interesting way of jarring us out of our cocoons. It would seem that no one can duck and hide when the bullets start flying.

49 confirmed dead in Orlando. May these precious human lives be at peace. And may those who have survived – all of us – find clarity in these days to follow.

Here’s the part that rings true the hardest. It’s the punch to the gut that we don’t want to take: we all bear the burden of allowing this tragedy to happen. If we talk about interdependence then there can be no other truth than this. The church cleric and poet John Donne wrote that “no man is an island.” Later Thomas Merton co-opted this truth as the title for a book of meditative essays, (which I highly recommend.)

All faiths acknowledge interdependence at some level. While I have not taken the bodhisattva vow, this is my calling, my path; and while the bodhisattva does not necessarily take the blame, the bodhisattva does take responsibility.

Regardless of our faith, major religions teach us that all life is precious, as all life is created by God. This is a loaded statement. All life is precious. This includes the life of those who died, as well as the lives of those who survived. It includes the perpetrator as well as the victims. We all coexist in this pond together. The cultural systems that allow hate and violence to take root in our hearts – and that took root in the heart of that young man – are very much real everywhere. It’s in our nature to want to single out this case as an outlier, as a freak occurrence. In our hearts we know better.

As a bodhisattva, I take responsibility. I must take responsibility. This is a time for action, but also reflection. What could I have done to make a difference, however small? Who in my community is suffering, and what can I do to ease that suffering? My line of responsibility does not flow directly to Orlando; but, through a series of interconnected (and interdependent) ripples, it does eventually reach the world. As do all of our actions.

While in Detroit, against this backdrop of social division I also experienced several reminders of basic goodness. I randomly sat down in a hotel bar next to the Atlanta based artist DL Warfield, and over green tea and an NBA finals game, we enjoyed a conversation about educating youth, and the power of education to transform young lives. I sat in a small cafe on Brooklyn St. enjoying a solitary lunch. The manager, Marissa, started to chat with me about so many of the great things happening in Detroit. It turned out that her and her husband have an Airbnb studio apartment, which she invited me to use whenever I traveled to the city. It wasn’t just about her booking the apartment, or me saving cash. She took time out to talk to me about the positive things happening in the city, and was generously offering her hospitality. Instead of being demoralized by the crime and ruins that exist within mere blocks away, she is engaged in actively building community. Later, I visited various private schools in the city to meet with building administrators regarding teacher development. Some of the buildings seemed to be crumbling, some were growing. All are amazing. The love and commitment they have for their children and for their community is humbling.

This blog is called “The Trail is Life.” But we cannot exist alone in the wilderness. The wilderness is not independent from the city, or the suburbs. We are social beings and our interdependence on each other means that we are responsible for each other. We all have much more influence on others, and the world at large, than we give ourselves credit for. May we recognize that and act accordingly, with compassionate wisdom.

May all beings be safe, happy, and at peace.

As a bonus, please enjoy this podcast from Josh Korda, of Dharmapunx NYC on “Processing the Incomprehensible.”