Between compassion and fear

This may be rambling, but bear with me.

Days after the election in November, I was sitting on the ground in protest with students, faculty, and staff at the University of Tennessee. Our voices cried out for equality, equity, and compassion in the face of the fear, hatred, and negativity that had pervaded the election cycle and ushered in its results. I had reminded myself then to use my voice to resist, persist, and stand up for the vulnerable. My privilege as a White, cisgender male allows me a seat at the table. My life experience, particularly as a gay man, informs my position while seated at that table.

But days like today give me pause and I find myself searching for words. Last night, I stayed up into the wee hours watching events unfold in Charlottesville, Virginia, a place I recently called home. While some on social media spoke of being shocked by what was and is occurring, shock is not a reaction I’ve had. I’ve lived in the South my whole life and I know this type of fear and hatred exists here and elsewhere. What is different in my perception now are the signal boosters of the fear, in this country and globally.

I was in the United Kingdom when the terrorist attack happened at London Bridge, traveling to London the day after. Then as now, I find myself very introspective and processing all that I’m feeling—sadness, anger, frustration, puzzlement, and wanting. And then as now, I find myself in a place of safety and quiet, in meditation and thought of how to use what I have—my voice, my skills, my position—to better the situation.

My training as a Certified Healing Touch Practitioner helps tremendously in having a measured response and keeping my outrage in check. It allows me to practice my compassion and offers me insight into the numerous ways in which I can do that on a daily basis. Still, I find my mind racing a bit—going through memories, thoughts, and ideas at lightning speed in an effort to find a solution, an action, a task.

I’ve thought about the times that I’ve stood where the events in Charlottesville are now happening. Specifically, the times I’ve stood on those very spots at rallies for peace, equality, and equity, and vigils of remembrance.

I’ve thought about the students who came to me for support during times of fear when I was a member of the faculty at the University of Virginia—students who were wrestling with their own responses to fear and hate.

I’ve thought about what it is like to be on the receiving end of that fear and hate myself, particularly during my teenage years when I faced verbal and physical harassment daily because of my sexual orientation.

And I’ve thought of the words of others.

Like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said, “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

Like Garrison Keillor, who wrote

Gentleness is everywhere in daily life, a sign that faith rules through ordinary things: through cooking and small talk, through storytelling, making love, fishing, tending animals and sweet corn and flowers, through sports, music and books, raising kids—all the places where the gravy soaks in and grace shines through. Even in a time of elephantine vanity and greed, one never has to look far to see the campfires of gentle people.

Like Fannie Lou Hamer, who said, “You can pray until you faint, but unless you get up and try to do something, God is not going to put it in your lap.”

Like Maya Angelou, who said about hate that “it has caused a lot of problems in this world, but it has not solved one yet.”

Like Meryl Streep, who said, “Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”

Or Bob Marley, who said, “You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice.”

I know that the most important thing I can do is to continue to choose compassion over fear. For me, it really isn’t that much of choice. But I also know that compassion does not equate with complacency or silence. I will continue to use my voice, my skills, my resources, and my heart to do what I can when I can for as long as I can to strive for and speak up for compassion, peace, dignity, and equity.

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