Fear may be an illusion, but hate-filled teenagers with kitchen knives over their heads running at you are not.
Here are the illusions we live by:
- That one way is the right way.
- That you’re better than me or I’m better than you.
- That someone will win and someone will lose.
Last night, we watched a heart-wrenching film about World War I, with all the young men willingly going to war, to do their duty. The three main characters all died in combat, the one young woman among them left to bear that loss all the rest of her life.
Today, we caught up on the latest episode of Home Fires, a PBS Masterpiece show about the onset of World War II in England. Male characters were so eager to sign up for military service, and I began to wonder why they were so willing to go.
Because from where I sit, we’ve had a century of war, one after the next after the next. Intifadas, Cold Wars, Hot Wars, and Conflicts that lasted longer than we ever could have imagined.
Burned draft cards, righteous protest, and requisite punishments.
So many emotions swirling over the course of the last 100 years and we still have not found the path to peace.
But perhaps I have too short a view of things. Read the Bible and you’ll find the quintessential conflicts driven by hatred and fear of the other or the unknown. That takes us back to the beginning of humanity.
So much conflict, set among a never-ending inability to peacefully co-exist.
In the movie, the main character as a nurse on the front in France holds the hand of a dying German POW. His last words, a plea for apology from his girlfriend, she translates and answers, as the only person fluent in German. The other nurse is shocked; she’s fraternizing with the enemy.
And the movie ends with her passionate plea to stop pointing fingers and continuing to hate; his hand in hers were the same smooth skin, the same blood coursing in veins underneath the surface.
You see, don’t you?
We are all the same. And yet we cannot help but fight one another.
Next month, my children and I are traveling to Israel, and I simply cannot wait. I’ve been there 10 or so times in the last 10 years, on the edge of one Intifada and on the cusp of another.
My first visit, I arrived on a Friday morning and my luggage did not make it on the same flight. The Sabbath was hours away, and I had an interview to do in Efrat, a settlement city outside Jerusalem.
I had one change of clothing in my backpack. A Mercedes taxi took me over the one road that existed then, through Jewish land into Arab land and back to Jewish soil.
I interviewed Rabbi Shlomo Riskin. I rode back to Jerusalem to welcome the Sabbath.
On the way, we were stopped at the checkpoint, then waved through because we were not suspicious. The following week, an alternate Bethlehem road would open so that Jews and Arabs wouldn’t be tempted to risk endangering one another.
Or something like that.
My clothing did not arrive for three days, and so, since I was not Sabbath-observant at the time, my tour guide took me shopping on Saturday in East Jerusalem.
I remember buying blue jeans and underwear and shirts, speaking with the store proprietors, all Arab, who were kind and welcoming. After, we snacked in an outdoor cafe, on coffee and hummus, and two Arab young men strummed a guitar and sang.
It was lovely.
Today, I cannot return there. The hatred and fear run too high. They are the predominant emotions driving all actions.
And for what?
There is now answer.
We are our own enemies, every single day. We say that “they” hate us, but we are no better. Dig deep and you will find your own intolerance living on inside you, for someone or something. It’s there, and you don’t try hard enough to escape it.
Why, I ask?
Why do we let fear run us? Why do we not cling to the rational understanding of shared humanity and common ideals?
Love, kindness and community, that’s what we all want, whether we have dark skin or light, abundant wealth or none at all.
We want to survive. To be accepted for what we believe and what we prefer. To run free.
I really don’t think it’s asking too much.