"Hippogriff" by Gustave Doré for Orlando furioso
Philando Castile. Alton Sterling. Dallas. Orlando.
That's in the past month. In our own country. It doesn't count Istanbul, Baghdad, Syria, the rise of hate crimes in the U.K., or even the "everyday" attacks here, like gang violence in Chicago or domestic violence from sea to shining sea. It's enough to make my blood turn cold.
Enough with the violence. Enough with the hatred. I've had it. Enough.
This is something that I've thought about sharing many times in the past year, but have been too timid to write. It seems right to share it now. If I can write one thing that could affect change, I should. Nothing changes without bravery. In that spirit, here goes:
I have dreams. I mean, we all have dreams, but I have some dreams that I know are important. They're the kind of dreams that make my whole body feel flushed and every bit of me tingly when I wake up. It's like every part of me is yelling, "Pay attention! This is important!" Maybe you have these dreams too. Or maybe you don't. But I had one that has shaken me to my very core and I can't shake it.
Last summer in late July, I dreamt that I heard the call of a bird of prey, maybe a hawk. I walked to my bathroom window to look out at the bird and there, flying across the horizon was a creature, inky black: a hippogriff. It had the head of a hawk and the body of a pegasus. It was sleek, angular, jet black with feathers glistening in the moonlight. This wasn't the kind of hippogriff that looks approachable and fluffy like in the Harry Potter movies. No, this was a creature of immense size, strength, and speed. Its body was as large as at least three houses. And, on its back, was a skeletal rider. But not a normal Halloween skeleton. This was a huge skeleton, wearing a top hat, bow tie, and tails. And having a marvelous time. He was laughing, waving an arm in the air, while his steed circled the horizon, from the west to the east, and back again.
As the pair came behind my house and back to the point where I first saw it, another pair had joined them. The same jet-black creature with another skeletal rider. This rider, however, wore a variation on the party theme, a bandana tied around its skull and cowboy boots, no formal attire for him. And, as they passed by, they collected a third pair, equally jovial in attitude and clad in a necktie and derby hat, the rider standing on his steed, backward, bouncing and laughing.
The circled the horizon together, the three of them, cackling, shouting, and thoroughly enjoying themselves, and then they were gone. No fourth rider. I was left looking at my backyard trees, empty of leaves, looking like late fall or winter. To quote Sondheim, "bare as coatracks, spread like broken umbrellas."
I awoke with a gasp, every part of me on fire. I cannot tell you how terrifying this sight was. There was certainly no going back to sleep after that.
The next day, I went to see my priest. I asked him what he thought it meant. He considered it carefully before saying, "Hmm. I don't know, but it's definitely something to pay attention to. Pray about it. You'll get the answer." I have looked up dream symbolism. I have asked friends. I have come up empty. Until now.
That was almost a year ago and I still see that scene when I look out of my bathroom window at night. The best way I can describe the feeling I had was that the evils of the world have been unleashed upon us and the dark forces are gleefully watching us tear each other apart. We are their entertainment. And we're putting on one hell of a show.
I thought about what has happened in the past (almost) year. I have watched in horror, as so many of us have, at the vitriol and hate that have come spewing forth in the past year. It's as if racism, sexism, intolerance, and hate have come to the forefront in every sound bite. It's like evil is being given a microphone and a pat on the back. And, as a nation, we're hypnotized. And with every click, we're legitimizing this behavior and this thinking.
In the meanwhile, families are mourning losses of lives cut short. Parents have lost children. Children are grieving parents. A four-year-old watched her father get shot by a police officer in her own car. Less than twenty-four hours later, snipers kill five police officers who are trying to ensure a peaceful protest. After Orlando, I watched as, across the world, people poured love out to our country. And what were we doing? We were fighting. We were more unified when the attack was in Paris than we were when the attack was on our own soil.
I was recently reminded of the days after September 11, particularly this story: I remember walking through Times Square, covering my nose and mouth with a napkin that I had grabbed from McDonald's to try to keep the ash out of my nose and mouth. My eyes stung. And as I waited at a light on the way to the subway station, a guy bumped into the girlfriend of the guy standing next to me. Tempers flared. Guy #2 thought that Guy #1 bumped her intentionally. Their voices rose in anger. I reached for my phone, ready to call for help if needed. And then, Guy #2 stopped and said, "You know what, man? The World Trade Center's on fire. We got bigger problems." And, just like that, they hugged. Two grown men in the middle of Times Square who had been just about to come to blows were hugging. They apologized to each other (and Guy #1 apologized to the girlfriend) and they went their separate ways.
Would that happen today? I doubt it.
Now we're in a world full of people hiding behind their screens (myself included), sometimes quickly passing judgment on others without thinking about how it affects them personally. The thought of anyone in grief being harassed is horrifying, not to mention the ways in which every tragedy is met with a group of people who say, "they deserved it." Even to the parents of the child who was snatched away by an alligator. Or to the families of children killed in Newtown. This is evil at play. To lose sight of your fellow human being's struggle is dangerous. It turns us all into monsters.
Two weeks ago, my children asked me why the flag was flying at half-mast. I told them about the shooting in Orlando. I told them that fifty people had been killed and another fifty people had been hurt. And that every one of them was someone's child. And I started to cry. And then, through my tears (and remembering Mr. Rogers), I told them this:
"The world has a lot of bad stuff in it right now. There's a lot of hate. And bad things. But a wise man once told me that his mother told him that when you see something bad, you should look for the helpers. Because there are always helpers. That's true. And this is important: in any bad thing, there is always love and always God. And that love is stronger than any hate. Love will always win. God will always win. God lives in all of us and that love shines through. Even in the darkest times."
So, I'm trying to take my own advice. Hate is a cancer. It can eat away at you, leaving only darkness. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., got it right, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
I don't know what to do. I don't know what to say. But I would rather be a light. Love each other. Please.