Thursday, November 19, 2015

Juxtapositions-- Musings in the early morning hours

It’s 5:30 in the morning and I have long since given up trying to go back to sleep, having awakened at 2:15. I tried listening to meditative music, and counting backwards from 300, and keeping my mind blank, but nothing has worked. So, instead of fighting this insomnia, I am choosing to look at it as a bonus; I’ve got a few extra hours to be conscious and alert, a few extra hours found tucked away in this deep night which I can use to reflect on the mysteries of life and death and all the ways we dance with these two partners, all the juxtapositions of joie de vivre and the macabre we’re forced to navigate every day.
Like virtually every other person on the planet with access to global media, I’ve been thinking about the terrorist attacks in Paris last Friday. When it happened, I was in New York City, ultimately on business, but front-loading pleasure, seeing two Broadway musicals with a friend. I was without a computer, and only had my smartphone as a link to the larger world; it was all I needed, as it turns out. I read reports of bombs and attacks and hostages being held, but it wasn’t until I was going into the theatre for that night’s show that the gravity of the situation began to truly unfold.
I was seated in the Al Hirschfield theatre ready to watch “Kinky Boots,” a mainly light-hearted and
funny take on the true story of a failing shoe company that revitalized itself by making sturdy, fashionable, sexy boots for drag queens. The mood in the theatre was festive; there was lots of sparkly clothing to be seen. I bought a sassy shirt and posted a picture of it on Facebook. On Facebook I saw more of the horror that was going on in Paris. I posted that my thoughts and prayers were with Paris.

Juxtapositions. Terror and death, comedy and theatrics. 129 people were killed and the musical was hilarious


The next evening, after a full day in a leadership training conference put on by the Metro NYC UU chapter, I was seated in JFK airport waiting for my flight home. I was eating dinner in a sports bar where there were several flat screen televisions showing different sporting events; in a nod to current events, one was tuned to non-stop coverage of events in Paris. The whole thing felt so surreal. On three screens, side by side, I was watching a football game, a weight-lifting competition, and scenes from Paris of those wounded, the buildings destroyed, interviews with survivors. As I
unrolled my napkin, the cutlery tumbled to the table: a stainless steel fork and a plastic knife---reminders of another day of terror.

Juxtapositions. Sports and suicide bombers. Commentary on a weight-lifter’s goal and the names of those who were killed.

And of course now, everyone on social media is weighing in--as are leaders of nations, states and countries-- arbitrarily linking the Daesh attacks with the Syrian refugee crisis, calling on the US government to renege on our promise of welcoming 10,000 refugees in. Some of the more obvious bits of irony are memes that say, "If only there were a seasonally appropriate story about a poor Middle Eastern family seeking refuge and being turned away" and the one that asks, "Whatever happened to your demand that #alllivesmatter?" The most curious juxtaposition, though, is the strident cry of many politicians and presidential wannabees, the clamor of over half the governors—all Republicans-- in our country to block Syrian refugees from entering the United States or—worse, really—to only allow “Christian” refugees, while sending “Muslim” refugees away. What I don’t understand is that the vast majority of these governors govern states that get an “F” in gun safety laws and have resisted efforts to put smarter gun control laws into place in the wake of tragic shooting after tragic shooting by predominantly white United States citizens who claim Christianity as their religion; in the face of statistics that tell us we lose 36 people a day to gun violence in this country. If these governors, and presidential wannabees are really concerned about protecting the good people of the 
United States, should they not first look to putting safety guidelines in place that can protect us from the most viable, persistent threat, which is ourselves?

Juxtapositions. Radicals from an extremist group in another country attack venues in Paris, 129 people are killed. Politicians want to ban all Syrians fleeing from those same terrorists while in the United States that many people are killed by guns in just 3 ½ days and those same politicians actively resist smarter gun safety laws.

This is the bizarro world in which we live, in which we try to seek meaning and find our rhythm in this dance of life, which is difficult at best, since we never know when death is going to cut in.  

No wonder I can’t sleep. 

And that’s just covers the main juxtaposition du jour. There are others in my life, as I’m sure there are in yours.

So what’s to be done? We can’t control the racist undertones of much of the rhetoric surrounding the Syrian refugees but we can control our own response to the tragedy in Paris as it continues to unfold, the tragedy of violence in our own country that we continue to ignore, and the tragedy of the deadly war in Syria from which so many are fleeing for their lives.

We can recognize in these multiple tragedies, our own shared humanity. We can pick up trash when we take a walk around the block and buy coffee for the person in line behind us at Starbucks. We can not care about the color of Starbucks holiday cups. We can hold our loved ones tighter, we can reach out to those who look or speak differently than we do. We can make new friends. We can hide the posts of those on Facebook who want to rant about politics in a way that does violence to our spirits; we don’t have to engage them in debate, we don’t have to unfriend them (since many of these people may be much beloved family members and friends) but we don’t have to see those posts come up in our Facebook feed. We can turn off the non-stop coverage of these tragedies. We can see Kinky Boots or the new Peanuts movie. We can read poetry. We can even, as Barbara Brown Taylor tells us, read poetry to trees. We can love, fully and freely and without fear. We can.

We can never guarantee our safety, no matter where we are, or how heavily we arm ourselves or build blockades to keep others out, but we can guarantee our serenity, our peace of mind by choosing to let go of those fears and instead embrace this life, this dance, sometimes leading and sometimes following, but always sure of our own footing, no matter where the dance may take us.

Look at that: it’s 7:00 AM now; I guess I’ll put the coffee on.

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