Published June 18, 2016
In recent weeks, there have been several tragic events in the news. First, a four year old child accidentally fell into a gorilla pit at a zoo in Ohio. The gorilla habitat was an open air exhibit, meaning it had no fencing or protective barriers, other than some hedging and a fifteen foot drop. The child escaped his mother’s view for a moment, crawled into the hedging and fell into the enclosure. The gorilla, acting on instinct, grabbed the child and ran with him. Some claimed that the gorilla was simply trying to protect the child. However, wildlife biologists have weighed in claiming that the gorilla was exhibiting possessive rather than protective behaviors, which were potentially dangerous to the child. In truth, we will never know what the gorilla’s state of mind may have been, or how the situation would have ended without intervention. Fortunately, the child was retrieved largely unharmed. However, the gorilla was tragically killed. I’m certain that this was a terrifying experience for the child, the parent, and the staff charged with managing the situation.
Following on the heels of this tragic accident, a two year old child on vacation with his parents was taken from a Florida resort and killed by an alligator. The child was reportedly playing near a body of water a short distance from his parents. The horrified parents fought to save their child, but the alligator wrestled him from their hands. I can’t even begin to imagine the unspeakable horror that they must have experienced in that moment, and that they have continued to deal with each moments since.
When the first child fell into the gorilla pit the public outcry against the parents was immediate and cruel. Their parenting skills were weighed, measured, and found wanting by strangers that knew nothing about their family. The history of both parents was dragged into the public sphere, judged and condemned, even though only one parent was present at the time of the accident. In the court of public opinion, the case was being made – these parents were not good or responsible people.
There was also a loud public outcry over the death of the gorilla. Some suggested that it might be appropriate for the negligent parent to also be shot and killed, since they were equally responsible for the outcome. And, then the zoo employees were examined, critiqued, and found guilty. This public flouting went on for about two weeks. Then, a greater tragedy occurred and the feeding frenzy turned to the parents of the child that had been killed by the alligator. Clearly, these parents were also negligent in their duties, and they too must be judged and condemned. Every possible scenario for avoiding the horrific outcome was bandied about by the public. And, within 24 hours of this precious child’s body being found, memes appeared on social media suggesting that the death of the second child was some form of karmic retribution for the death of the gorilla.
In those discussions, there was no place for deep empathy, no sincere reflection on how we would feel as the parents of either child. There was no respect for the unimaginable grief of the toddler’s family. And, there was no reverence for the sacredness of that child’s life or the life of the dead gorilla. Instead, there was a battle of opinions, and a public crucifixion of both sets of parents.
Between these two tragic events, the horror of the Orlando shooting unfolded. A deranged gunman opened fire on hundreds of people at a gay night club in Orlando, killing 49 and wounding 53 more. The loss of life was catastrophic, and; the implications for the LGBTQ community were terrifying.
Again, the polarizing arguments quickly emerged. Was it a hate crime or a terrorist act? Should we focus on the assumed religious affiliation of the shooter? Did the shooter have a religious affiliation or did he simply have a Middle Eastern name? Was his history of domestic violence, his obsession with law enforcement, or his targeting of a specific population more important? Should we use this “opportunity” to highlight the fact that U.S. massacres against other populations were historically worse? Or, should we simply use this latest tragedy to reignite the debate over gun control?
In all of that questioning, there was no room for empathy or respect for the grieving families, and there was no deep sense of reverence for the lives lost. Instead, there was a frenzied competition of beliefs and opinions.
The only explanation for these behaviors is a form of collective amnesia. We have forgotten that we are them and they are us. We have forgotten that we belong to one another.
Thankfully, those who have re-membered themselves with the rest of creation quietly stood up. In the midst of this maelstrom, their gentle voices came forward. Illuminous souls rose up around the world, in beauty and power, through countless acts of loving support and solidarity. They united seemingly disparate populations, and held space for them to grieve and hope, together.
These gentle souls challenged us to look more closely at how we define and treat one another within the public sphere, and to question the common agreements that have led us to this gruesome place of conflict, competition, and condemnation. They graciously encouraged us to consider how we might work together to develop a healthy respect and compassionate understanding toward one another, and toward our relatives in the natural world.
They reminded us of what we had forgotten: that we are interrelated, and interdependent on one another and with the world around us. They reminded us that we have to care for one another and learn to live in harmony with one another. And, they reminded us to respect and make space for one another, in this precious world that we all share.
In the midst of this turmoil, they reminded us that in order to truly be human we must also be kind.
Today, once again, I allow myself to grieve for the all the lives that have been tragically lost over the past week. And, I bow in deep gratitude for the light within us that seems to shine brightest in times of darkness. May that light continue to grow within each one of us and illuminate the truth –None are safe unless we are all safe, we are all connected. And, only love is real. ONLY love is real.
Rest in blessed peace.
Christina Grimmie, 22 – Shot and killed at The Plaza, Orlando – June 10, 2016.
Stanley Almodovar III, 23 years old, Amanda Alvear, 25 years old, Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26 years old, Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33 years old, Antonio Davon Brown, 29 years old, Darryl Roman Burt II, 29 years old, Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28 years old, Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25 years old, Luis Daniel Conde, 39 years old, Cory James Connell, 21 years old, Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 years old, Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 years old, Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31 years old, Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25 years old, Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26 years old, Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 years old, Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22 years old, Paul Terrell Henry, 41 years old, Frank Hernandez, 27 years old, Miguel Angel Honorato, 30 years old, Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40 years old, Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 years old, Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30 years old, Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25 years old, Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32 years old, Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21 years old, Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49 years old, Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25 years old, Kimberly Morris, 37 years old, Akyra Monet Murray, 18 years old, Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20 years old, Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25 years old, Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36 years old, Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32 years old, Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35 years old, Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25 years old, Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27 years old, Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35 years old, Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24 years old, Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24 years old, Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34 years old, Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33 years old, Martin Benitez Torres, 33 years old, Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24 years old, Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37 years old, Luis S. Vielma, 22 years old, Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50 years old, Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37 years old, and Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 years old. Shot and killed at Pulse Night Club, Orlando – June 12, 2016.
Lane Graves, 2 years old – Killed by an alligator, Disney Resort, Orlando – June 14, 2016
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. She is currently completing her first book, titled “Sacred Instructions.” Follow her on Twitter @sacred411
CORRECTION: Saturday, June 18, 2016, 9:34 am – EDT