Saturday, January 31, 2009

"Love One Another"

Walking today desti-
nation Temple Bar, I realized that I wasn't afraid of the traffic anymore. Cars whooshed past loudly, but I hardly noticed them. Only by its absence did I recognize what I'd previously felt as fear.

When I first arrived here in Dublin, I felt aggressed by the traffic. The driving on the left didn't help matters any. The rushing cars seemed impatient with me, and certainly unforgiving when I crossed at the wrong time, habituated as I am to checking left not right before stepping into the street. Then there was the matter of drivers being seated at steering wheels on the right side of the cab. All this strangeness left me feeling alien, I realize now.

I hate to be new at anything. I hate to stand out for the "wrong" reasons. I wanted to be doing it all right--especially given doing it wrong in this case could actually cost me my life. Who wouldn't be fearful!

Then I apparently got used to it. Case in point: I had to close my eyes just now and picture my own car to remember which side my steering wheel is on - hah! The left, of course: I saw it immediately. But it amuses me that I had to stop even for a split second to think about it. And it's telling: I have become accustomed (an interesting word indeed) to the differences: they aren't so different anymore.

And all at once, on watching this progression of thoughts between Barrow Street and the Grand Canal, I saw that this must be human nature, or at least the nature of fear. Or is it our default relationship to difference? Something strange, foreign is perceived as a threat and is to be defended against. One must protect oneself.

As a people, we seem to be very skilled at creating "us"s and "them"s. Democrat and Republican, first world and third world, Christian and Muslim, gay and straight, privileged and homeless, fully abled and disabled, mentally well and mentally ill, "pro choice" and "pro life": the list is endless. Maybe it's having seen Milk a week ago that has me thinking in such dichotomous terms, has me seeing more clearly the relationship between fear and difference.

I knew of Harvey Milk before seeing the film, but didn't know him or that piece of history well. What's clear to me now is this: Harvey Milk loved people. And Harvey Milk had a passion for freedom--not just for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people, but for all people. Rather than "us"s and "them"s, he saw "Us"s: various groups of "Us"s. There is a gargantuan difference between the two views. A world of "Us"s has its base in unity: all constituents of that world are individual parts of one whole. Introduce a "them"--Jews, blacks, Arabs, queers, "rednecks," etc. --and you introduce a potential adversary, an opponent. In a world where there are only "Us"s, there is no opponent. In such a world, there is no enemy.

Is it just difference that has us pit "Us" against "Them"? Well yes: difference and its Siamese twin, fear, I'd say. In the fewer than five minutes' time it took me to reach the corner of Clanwilliam Place and Mount Street Lower, I saw the whole schema. The Dublin traffic did not aggress me. Those drivers were not hostile. Their ways were different. Their streets were different. I was different, foreign. They were different, foreign. I felt like an outsider. Like someone who had wandered into an exclusive club where I held no membership. It was these and only these elements of difference that had me perceive aggression, and it was that perception alone that triggered my fear.

I see it was my exposure, my getting familiar with the difference that disintegrated my fear--poof! It's not that the difference has been eliminated, you notice. I am still a "left of cab" driver who will resume driving on the right side of the road upon return to the U.S. I have not become a "right of cab" driver, though I will abide by the rules and customs while here, if required. Notice I needn't become part of the Irish "Us" to abide the differences between us, any more than I need to become a part of the Israeli "Us" or the transsexual "Us" or the bipolar 'Us" to abide them. I need only to familiarize myself with the differences to acclimate to them, to vaporize any fear that those differences might provoke in me.

Many segments, but one cloth: all the real peacemakers of any era have have known this. Take Jesus of Nazareth, for example. Could his fundamental message (if the recordkeepers kept their records well) have been any simpler?
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
John 13:31-35

Where there is fear, there is not Love. The "them"s get us every time, don't they? The illusion of a "them," that is. The opposing "other" is a concept before it becomes a "fact." But there is no "them" in fact. In the patchwork quilt that is humanity, some sections resemble hardly at all the other sections. Still, they are no less integral, no less valuable, no less a part of the whole.

There is not even another to love, really. Moment by moment, gesture by gesture, we are loving Us or we are not, it's as simple as that.


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