October 12, 2015
“There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.” Thomas Merton (1915-1968) Writer, Theologian & Mystic
STUFF I KNOW BY ME © Kathleen McKern Verigin
I’ve never hit or slapped anyone. I’ve never thrown or broken anything in anger. I don’t own a gun or any other weapon. I even take (most) spiders outside. My guess is that many of us reading this would say the same about their own lives. “I’m not violent,” and adding, “And therefore I cannot understand the violence that permeates our contemporary culture.” Yes, I’m referring to the recent massacre in Roseburg, Oregon, and the horrific acts of violence that have come before. If we are truly All One, and we’re all in this together, the question becomes: how am I actively participating in a climate of violence?
I call upon the wisdom of Thomas Merton, as quoted above. In his world view, I could be seen of someone who is violent. I can easily work, work, work until my body stops me and forces me to rest. My mom, even into old age, was always in a hurry, rushing here and there. Like her, I often bang into things thereby gifting myself odd scrapes and bruises. Too many demands, over committing, the desire to help everyone in everything, “…is to succumb to violence.” I cannot stop the violence in our country, but I can stop contributing to it by stopping the insanity in my own life. SLOW DOWN!!! When I do that, amazing connections emerge. Like recently when having breakfast at Shari’s.
Upon entering the restaurant, I noticed a woman about my age sitting by the door. She was very small, somewhat unkempt, and shivering. I had the idea to stop and ask if she was okay. Instead, because I was in a hurry, I kept walking and met my friend for breakfast. She said she hadn’t noticed the woman at the door. During lunch I saw the woman pacing outside the restaurant, smoking a cigarette. Because the woman was again sitting on the entry bench when we paid our bill, I asked the waitress if she knew anything about her. She said she’d been sitting there since they opened at 6:00am. It was now 10:30am. “No one has checked on her?” I asked. The waitress said the woman had ordered and eaten breakfast, paid, and then told the staff that she was waiting for a ride. I actually had a violent thought—What if she’s a domestic violence victim and her partner is stalking her and might come into this restaurant and go on a shooting rampage?
Not wanting that thought to take root, instead I took a breath, walked over to the woman by the door, and sat down beside her. “Are you okay?” I softly asked. When she turned to look at me, I saw despair on her face. She said she was okay. That her boyfriend had kicked her out last night after a fight and she had no place to go. No friends or relatives, only a bench at Shari’s. “Are you safe?” I asked. She said yes, that he wouldn’t harm her. Then I asked what she wanted to have happen. She said she wanted to find a shelter or some other means of protection, but she didn’t know how. She had a cell phone so I suggested she look up the crisis phone line for Multnomah County. Because I use to volunteer there, I knew that whomever answered the call would point her in the right direction. I offered her bus money, but she said that she had enough money to get downtown.
She thanked me profusely while promising to make the call. I asked her name and I told her mine. We parted in friendship, the anam cara kind, with a hug, and a nod that said “I see you.”
It was only later that I thought of the five minute exchange as a way of practicing non-violence. How many perpetrators of violence with guns have felt unseen, unheard, or unloved? Abandoned and alone? I may not be able to stop a lonely individual’s act of violence, but I can stop my participation in violence by slowing down. Will you join me?
Simon & Garfunkel, Feeling Groovy, stereo (1:50)
Surprise singers at the end!