And go outside.

On Saturday we took the kids to the Self Realization Fellowship garden. We had made plans to do so before Friday's attack on Paris. And Thursday's attack on Beirut. And the attack on Kenya in April. And. And. And... 

I have seen the strong reactions in and from all directions regarding whom to mourn and how. Because the truth is, when it comes to tragedy, most of us ARE quick to pledge allegiance to the flag that feels familiar. The song that makes us dance. Our own reflection in the mirror...

Paris is the place we all pinned to our bedroom walls as teenagers. Paris is where we planned our honeymoons. Paris is where we worshipped the literary ghosts who pushed our pens into the margins of our journals. Paris is why we wanted to study abroad. It's why I spent a summer sleeping on the couch of a friend of a friend in the Place de la Nacion.

Paris, for me, was the nucleus of my own moveable feast.  Perhaps it was for you, too.

So I understand. I understand why profile pictures have been changed. I understand the universal mourning of a place that is as far from home as any. I struggled with knowing where to stand after Je Suis Charlie, but I feel very certain that my mourning of Paris and those who spent their last nights at a rock show, are valid and deeply felt. And I feel a little sad that so many have been shamed for feeling similarly. For mourning, just like I have, for the people of Paris.

Because, it's okay. It's okay to feel particularly attached to a place that isn't everywhere in the world. It is natural for us to align ourselves with people and places that are specific. To root for home teams. To pick sides.

And yet.

And yet. 

I feel that this moment -- this time right here right now -- is also a very significant time to listen. To press our ears against the mouths of those who speak from an experience that most of us are not capable of having. I believe that great change can happen in the crossfire of differing opinions, but only if we're willing to look beyond the places we are drawn to -- the places we are tied to -- the places we call home.


In the garden there is a court of religions that boasts the symbols of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism and within it are people of all walks and talks. Some are meditating. Others are quietly cracking jokes. Some are holding hands with parents, many with heads covered. Others skip quietly with arms linked and shoulders exposed. There is an older woman walking with a cane beside a baby asleep in a stroller. There are languages I do not recognize and those I can just barely understand.


My family emigrated from countries they would not have survived in had they stayed. Perhaps yours did, too. Had Ellis Island closed its doors on my father's mother's family and my father's father's family and my mother's father's family, none of us would be here. We would have stayed in Germany. We would have stayed in Poland. We would have stayed in Hungary. We would have been taken away with the rest of the extended family -- none of whom survived the Holocaust. Not one. 


We are all the same. We are all Paris and we are all Beirut and we are all Syria. We are all Christian and we are all Jewish and we are all Muslim refugees. And not because we believe the same things, or share the same ethnicity, but because we all have the capacity to be on the other side of the divide.

We are who our parents raised and who our communities shaped and who our friends passed notes to. We are the books we have read and the shows we have watched and the movies that have changed our lives and perspectives. We are our mothers' sons and our fathers' daughters and our grandparents' legacy. We all cry and laugh and love and lose and seek and find and lose again. We all dance.

And so does she. And so does he. And so do they.

This is why traveling is so important. This is why spending time with other people, learning other languages, reading books by authors who worship differently and love differently and look differently... is so important. We cannot save our world unless we crack ourselves open and break through the glass divide. We cannot make decisions that affect other people until we listen to their words and recognize that we cannot even begin to empathize with another experience unless we stand very still and LISTEN.
There is a very important reason why so many are asking WHY.

Why Paris and not Beirut?

Why close your borders to people who are fleeing for their lives?

Why shame? 

I ask the same questions of myself and my country and our world.

I am trying to understand why anyone at any point would want to kill a person, innocent or not, while also keeping in mind that our government does this very thing all the time. That NOBODY sees themselves as in the wrong when they do what they feel they need to do -- no matter how abhorrent.

We are not innocent. We never were. And our silence as we bomb and blast and terrorize the middle east speaks volumes about our own inability to recognize our own darkness.

Perhaps this is when we start to ask the right questions. Perhaps this is when we go from questioning our friends on Facebook to questioning ourselves -- our leaders -- our communities and culture.

It is possible to change a mind without shaming it. It is possible to enlighten an enemy without killing him. It is possible to mourn for the world while solidarity to one specific place. It is possible to reflect and to discuss and to LISTEN to all sides of these various debates without turning to hatred and meanness and shame.

Sometimes the only way I can look at the big picture is by looking at it in myself. How does one go to war against her own weakness? How does one teach her children to be open and aware -- to speak up and also to sit down?

We are all going to be angry. We are all going to be afraid. And we are all, whether it's today or because of something that happens tomorrow, going to want to direct that fear and blame at those we decide most deserve it. Which is why every week another mob joins arms to point fingers towards the nearest bullseye. Last week we were up in arms over a small group of "Christians" and their frustration over coffee cups. We were up in arms over people's up-in-arm-ness.


In the garden, as I walked around the giant pond with my family, we marveled at the turtles and how they collect in the places where the sun shines the strongest.
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We discussed the similarities between our arms and that of the branches of trees.

"It looks like they're holding their hands up... reaching toward the light."

The kids spent two hours with a pile of sticks and leaves -- and old bark that had peeled off the sides of trees. They made sandwiches for me and Hal and we pretended to eat them. Over and over. Fable made bracelets out of weeds as people passed and smiled.
I wrote most of this post in the garden, which is why I'm including pictures I took from the path. Everything seemed to communicate in all the right ways that afternoon -- as it always seems to do. There is a unity between people and plants and animals and people. A unity that cannot be found on the Internet -- on twitter or Facebook or blogs. It is easy to say terrible things when we cannot see each other -- when we cannot look one another in the eyes. But outside? In the sun? Throwing shade is what ferns do.
When I was little, my Nana told me, "if you talk to the flowers, they will listen," and I believed her. I still do. I still think that a dying flower can be saved by some positive affirmations. I believe that a tree will grow fruit if every day you ask it nicely. And because of this belief, this adamant and deeply felt belief, my children now believe it, too. Because when you believe wholeheartedly in something, it is very easy to convince those around you it is so. Especially those who look to you for answers... We all believe in things that seem insane to others. Some of these things are harmless with mostly positive implications. Some of these things are not. Sometimes we disregard our power -- and we all have power... We think that our words will not upset or unhinge or inspire or change a mind. We think that our actions do not have implications because we cannot see them from our own experience. But at 34 years old, I still talk to flowers. And at 86 years old, my Nana does, too. And at 7 years old, so does Fable. We believe because someone once made a lot of sense to us during times when we were looking for answers. We believe because we desperately wanted to. Everyone is looking for answers. Let us not forget how impressionable we all are... How willing we all are to believe in something and to pursue both light and darkness in its name.
We are all capable of hatred and rebellion. We are all capable of love and compassion. It is as easy to open a door as it is to close one. But for anyone who has ever been on the other side of the door, to know an opening is to know relief. May we recognize in ourselves a willingness to search our own walls for grooves so that we might pry open the very doors we were taught to lock and walk outside -- out of our homes and our heads and away from our computers...  beyond the lines we have spent our entire lives drawing around ourselves and those who share our sameness...

Us // them.

Me // you.

Wrong // right.

...Let us all stand up, take ourselves by the hand and go outside.