I’m sitting in Orlando International. It’s 3:30 pm on 10.27.18. In one of those unwelcome serendipities, like magic you wish didn’t exist, I clicked a CNN notification on my phone that paraphrased president Trump, who said an armed guard outside the synagogue would have led to a better outcome. Simultaneously, the audio piping overhead from a TV just behind me documented the fallout of a shooting. About 32 hours ago, I was presenting a session at a conference on the value of global education: of reading everything, engaging the other, and thinking big; on the skills that such a dynamic education cultivates; on being prepared to live shoulder-to-shoulder with diversity; on compassion, empathy, and wisdom.
I don’t know anything about the shooter, who is now in custody. I don’t know what compels someone—what degree of misunderstanding, loathing, and fear—to commit such an atrocity. At a house of worship. Against defenseless people whose only agenda in that moment was to love. At last count, 11 were dead and several were injured, including some first responders who ran into the fire. My initial thoughts are a swirling morass, the type of stream-of-consciousness that I ask my students to write when I introduce them to interesting music. Because they are disorganized, I need to stream myself, so I remember.
11 families have just lost loved ones. I don’t know their names, but the victims were not anonymous. They had lives, dreams, frustrations, and passions—snuffed out in a moment. Their lives carved paths of consequence. In the hearts of so many, in spite of the footprints, abysses remain.
I wonder what the shooter’s childhood was like. What kind of student he was. How he was among friends. If he was ever victimized. Was he a spiritual man? Was he a reader? What kind of books did he read? What kinds movies did he watch? Did he love music? Had he ever traveled to strange place?
Had someone or something broken him?
I know we’re biologically predisposed to much, but I also know that environment helps determine our dispositions.
I’m so sick of press conferences with panels of authorities and homogeneous, official-looking somebodies awkwardly standing behind, betraying grim looks, and each speaker echoing the same scripted sentiments. What else are they supposed to say? No clue. But something sincere and authentic. I want someone to get pissed off on the mic and be a fearless advocate for good and an inexhaustible adversary of evil—but not of people. I’m sick of blanket statements that claim “our” or “American” values. Why not "human" values? Who gave anyone permission to speak for me, to represent in a terse statement the volume and complexity of my thoughts and values? I’m sick of pandering politicians of all stripes who patronize and then assume I tote the line.
I’m sick of manipulation, especially when it manifests as pure, divisive pathos. Something drove the shooter to this; I bet supercharged, manipulative rhetoric was involved.
I’m sick of our slavery to optics. Must I make a spectacle, engage in public therapy, a testimonial on the alter to be respected? Do I have to sell my sincerity, my grief, my revulsion, and my dedication? People just died.
The Squirrel Hill Synagogue is called The Tree of Life. The symbolism and significance transfix me. Trees—Emblems of strength and resilience, of growth and progress. Of Relationships. Perpetual victims of parasites, weather, and time—relentlessly reaching out and out. Converting the energy of a scar into stronger roots, roots that meander and wander and connect. Family trees. The human family.
I’m sick of catastrophes catalyzing action. But if this is what it takes, I hope we don’t squander these 11 opportunities to dignify life and do some good. To leave a positive footprint.
The moral arc of the universe will only bend towards Justice if the Just create that reality.
Global Initiatives Director
This blog is the collective voice of every person involved in the Global Initiative. Just as the globe hosts billions of disparate voices, we hope this space will embody and embrace the same diversity.