It seems like it was weeks ago that we all woke to the horrific news from Charleston. Since that dreadful morning, we have been inundated with opinions about the shooter’s motives, along with a litany of finger-pointing interpretations about who is to blame. Though we are all sickened by what happened, and by the media frenzy that followed, we are also largely desensitized to it. Unfortunately, what this means is that we will likely avoid, once again, the issue of violence in this country and its underlying causes.
We have become trained to live our lives through sound bites and memes. Thus, the challenge that arises when tragedy occurs is to be the cleverest at describing it within the four corners of our television or computer screen, while we completely avoid engaging the reality of it outside our front door.
Over the last two days, I have watched the energy of the collective consciousness become invested in that challenge, by repeatedly placing blame and discrediting one another’s positions. In the last 24 hours, I have seen posts that have blamed the NRA for their overbearing insistence that access to guns does not contribute to gun violence; the NRA in turn blamed one of the victims, claiming that his vote against guns in church made the victims less safe; another group blamed mental illness; while their opponents claimed that mental illness had simply become the catch-phrase for avoiding the larger problem, which was clearly psychotropic drugs. We blame, and blame, and blame, because it relieves us of taking any responsibility. The truth is that we are all complicit in the current state of affairs. By some unspoken, common agreement, Americans have chosen to overlook the fact that this country was founded on blood, and that it continues to thrive in blood. War has been the most significant and sustained truth guiding this country since its inception. And, despite all of the “progress” that has been made, American school children continue to be taught that genocide, slavery, and all other forms of subjugation and oppression, though terrible, are acceptable means to achieve noble ends. This is the true root of the problem. Until we are able to enter into meaningful dialogue about this truth, healing will not take place. And, we will all be doomed to repeat these devastating cycles over and over again.
In the midst of all of this madness, I must admit that I have struggled to find my own words to add to this ongoing commentary. This is certainly not the first incidence of violence that we have seen, and it’s not the worst in terms of numbers, but it has hit my heart full on, making it difficult for me to find my balance. Of course there is pain, there is frustration, and there is outrage. But, these feelings are not new, and they will not guide me back toward solid ground. What I need most in this moment of deep sadness is a space for love to rise. Love for the victims and their families, for the wounded psyche of this fractured nation, for the perpetrator who was led to believe that the path of violence was his personal path to nobility, and love for the well-guarded tenderness that resides within me. Events like this are the result of fear, hatred and a distorted sense of superiority over others. The only way to move beyond these is with love, compassion and a remembrance of our interconnectedness with all life. So in this moment, like so many moments before, I will invest my energy in connecting with my greatest source of strength and guidance, the power of love that lives within my own heart. Then, I will send that love out to all those who have been directly impacted by this horrific act, and to the rest of us whose spirits are constantly affected by the presence of violence that seems to permeate our world. Ni’dilnabamuk – for all my relations. May we one day remember that we are one family. Koselmol, nitaps naka nitap’esgs. I give my love to you all.
Sherri Mitchell (Wena’ Gamu’ Gwasit) was born and raised on the Penobscot Indian Reservation. She is an Indigenous Rights attorney, writer and teacher. She’s been an adviser to the American Indian Institute’s Healing the Future Program and the Spiritual Elders and Medicine Peoples Council of North and South America. Sherri speaks around the world on issues related to Indigenous rights, nonviolence, and the traditional Indigenous way of life. Sherri is the Director of the Land Peace Foundation, an organization committed to protecting Indigenous Rights and the Indigenous Way of Life.
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