Refugee

Alexandria Shooting

I am facing overwhelming emotions concerning the shooting yesterday in Alexandria, VA, and the response I read in The Washington Post. James Hodgkinson from Belleville, IL opened fire at a Republican baseball practice for an annual charity game against Democratic Senators. According to one of the people who left the stadium, Hodgkinson asked him what party the players belonged to, and when he had been told they were Republicans, Hodgkinson walked away. Sometime later, Hodgkinson returned and began shooting people. Besides four other people, Senator Scalise was shot in the hip, and was taken to the hospital in critical condition. Hodgkinson died later from gunshot wounds sustained from a shootout he had with the police.

Hodgkins

He was a Democrat who supported Bernie Sanders, and he would send angry letters to his senator exclaiming Trump’s betrayal of the United States.  The media, along with some members of the Republican Party, spun Hodgkinson as a left wing extremist. Rodney Davis, R-ILL, referred to the shooting as an act of terrorism, and Chris Collins, a representative of New York said the Democrats, “need to tone down their rhetoric.” Did they forget the words of Donald Trump during his campaign, and how he offered to pay for the lawyers to represent his supporters who attacked protesters (New York Times March 13, 2016)? Did they forget the veiled threat Trump made should Hillary Clinton be elected? “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although, the Second Amendment people—maybe there is, I don’t know (New York Times Aug. 9, 2016).” And a final example out of many when Trump said, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Ave. and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters (CNN January 24, 2016).” Trump’s rhetoric against Muslims, immigrants, people of color, and LGBT has emboldened many people in the United States to attack these groups without consequence.

Is the Republican Party trying to be ironic? The terrorism the United States has faced before 9/11 and after 9/11 has been, mostly, from white, Christian, right-wing extremists. Where is the crackdown on the extremism from the Right concerning the violent behavior of their constituents? From my perspective, I call bullshit, and I call hypocrisy. One side cannot do consistent acts of violence, get away with their crimes, and cry foul when the opposing side responds in a similar manner. Violence is reprehensible no matter who does it, and the issue isn’t simply political. Besides the shooting in Alexandria, VA on June 14 there was also a shooting in San Francisco at UPS where four people died.

San Francisco Shooting

As I write this there have been 154 mass shootings in the United States this year. It’s June 15, 166 days into the year.  The statistic is similar to what it was in 2016 where there seemed to be a mass shooting everyday.  Like Trump and the polarization of the United States, I think the mass shootings are symptoms of a deeper sickness. Generally speaking, people don’t pick up a gun to kill people and themselves without some kind of grievance. Instead of looking within, they will strike outside themselves to find a form of healing they will never have. They are ignorant of what to do. We are ignorant of what to do.

To break this down, all of us want to be happy, we all want to be free of suffering, and we all want to live in peace. Regardless of our various political stances, philosophies, religions, or socioeconomic status we all want fulfilling lives. To paraphrase The Buddha, all life is suffering, suffering is caused by attachment, we can be free from suffering, and that freedom from suffering comes through right mind, right speech, right action, and right livelihood. What I said was a mouthful, but I think the teachings applicable for the first steps towards a solution. To stop the violence we see in our world, we need to stop the violence in ourselves. We begin the changes by taking a few minutes to focus on our breath, to let our thoughts be, to realize we are not our thoughts, and that we are all interconnected. In these breaths we take refuge  in our own Buddha nature, or whatever holy nature that resonates with you. We take refuge in the Dharma, the teaching directing us to our true selves. We take refuge in the Sangha, or community because that is what we are. All living beings are completely interdependent to one another, and when one suffers, we all suffer.

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One of my favorite Buddhist teachers, Jack Kornfield told the story of one of his teachers who was an abbot of a monastery in Viet Nam during the war. There were Christian missionaries who found themselves caught in the crossfire between the Viet Cong and American troops. These missionaries were granted sanctuary by the abbot. The missionaries observed the monks’ constant meditation, and one missionary became so angry he confronted the abbot, “There’s a war going on out there! People are dying, and all you and your monks do is sit here and do nothing!” The abbot nodded and pointed to his heart, “If I don’t stop the war in my heart, I will never stop the war outside these walls.” The missionary took in the words of the abbot, and soon the Christian missionaries were participating in the monastery until they left.  Meditation and breathing seem overly simple, but they seem to work with those who live and serve in violent areas. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to understand change begins within ourselves. Not only do we need to live the change we want to see, but we need to change our hearts and minds to see. The only thing we have to lose is our knee jerk trust in violence.

 

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Reverence

Ronnie and I are polar opposites like a walking yin and yang. I am the dreamer who sees the mystical potential of thoughts and desires in the everyday fluttering of feet on concrete as trees sway and clouds move to the wind. She is the realist. Dreams are good, but there are necessary steps to take to realize that dream on smooth, well prepared paths. There are times where being on opposite sides of the spectrum is a volatile mix—a lit match falling into a puddle of gasoline. Today was one of those times. Our lease on our apartment will soon end, and we need to find another place as soon as possible. I hate living on the Southside, and we took this place because they were the only apartment who approved us quickly so we could get out of Lincoln, NE. Indy’s Southside is too Evangelical, too white, too conservative, and too bland. The area of town is as unimaginative and complacent as a casserole. There is no artistic culture, but plenty of camo, American and Confederate flags, and Trump/Pence bumper stickers or signs.

I’ve lived in downtown before I went back on the road, and the prices are affordable. Rent is comparable to the rent we pay on the Southside, but in better condition. Besides that, we would be near our favorite coffee shops and art shows, and the yearly art fair on Talbot St. along with the IMAF (Indianapolis Music and Art Fair) hosted by Redeemer Presbyterian Church. The church provides locally brewed beer, and the priests across the street at Joy of All Who Sorrow Orthodox Church will join in the festivities. With their black robes and long beards, the Orthodox priests blend into the crowd. We had an appointment with an apartment this morning in that neighborhood. Everything about the apartment sparked an overwhelming joy brimming over my being. The building was from the turn of the twentieth century but modernized, the central library was down the street, Thirsty Scholar a few blocks away, the trees around the vintage houses, the lights in the apartment, the gas stove, the refreshed smell of the apartment’s age, and the street view had me dancing and clapping like the queen we all know I am. I wanted the apartment there and now. Ronnie wanted to think about it and look at other apartments. I maintained a cool composure, but I was upset. I didn’t let it out until we got in our van and drove to Thirsty Scholar.

Ronnie began the conversation, “What is wrong with you?”
“I want that apartment.”
“If we filled out the application now, we would have to come up with more money because we have to pay our landlord on top of the down payment for the new apartment. We can’t do it.”
“Can’t do it,” I sniffed, “You’re standing in the way of what I want.”
“I understand you don’t want to live on the Southside. I don’t want to live on the Southside either. I hate it just like you, but if we fill out the application now we won’t have the money, and we’ll be stuck on the Southside with no place to go. We need the money to do this.”
“Money is a fleeting thing, and I’m not bound by it. Worse comes to worse, I can pack up what I can in my rucksack and start walking.”
“Fuck you! You’re going to leave me?!”
“No, you’re included in my rucksack vision.”
“If we did it that way, there is no coming back. We have to play this smart so we can have what we want. Now can we go in to Thirsty Scholar, have some coffee, and have a good fucking time?” We couldn’t have timed our entry any better. Once we got inside and ordered our coffee it began rain.

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Because of the weather, Thirsty Scholar had a few people speckled about the dining area. The wooden tables by the window were open, and both Ronnie and I enjoy those seats. Against the window there is a bench attached to the wall with little pillows for style and comfort, and on the other side of the tables are little vintage chairs appearing to be fragile to the touch but are sturdy. Ronnie took the bench, and I took the chair. My ass is planted firmly on the chair, and flattened by the unmoving metal and wood. As I type out the sketches on my phone, I notice the sky darken and the street lights come on to guide drivers through blinding rain. The brown luminescence is highlighted by the purple overtones as the lightning flashes, and windows shake from the following, booming thunder.  Across the street, at Herron High School, the trees are brought low by the heavy water in a reverential bow giving thanks to the falling rain. The musty smell of nitrogen in the air mixing with the earthy scent of the coffee grounds is a natural incense cultivating complete realization of the moment. Everything is captured, and the golden eternity is apprehended as I hear everything in the bar. The music selection is an eclectic blend of Americana and soul. A hymn for downtown. Marvin Gaye praying with a beat twang. Besides the music, there is muffled conversations between the baristas and patrons at the bar, couples and friends discussing ideas, measuring life with each swig of coffee, bent over as in prayer straining their ears to gather secret knowledge. Coffee spoons and cups clink together humming a tune like singing bowls calling the mind to meditation. Enlightenment is coming and will arrive with the next exhale.

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Ronnie is going over the floor plans just in case we decide on the apartment. She draws out the diagrams to make plans for the space like an architect. She has a real talent for interior decorating, and she knows how to optimize any space. She also takes time to show me the pictures of the other apartment we’re going to look at this Thursday on Meridian. The apartment is considerably cheaper and has bay windows which is something she must have. With all my wants, I momentarily forgot what she favors in a home. I told her that I changed my mind about the apartment downtown, and apologized for letting my urgency take over and behave like an ass. Ronnie told me the reason for the tension had to do with us being completely opposite, “You being a dreamer pulls me out of my realism to understand how free I am to follow my dreams.”
“And you being a realist puts my dreams in perspective by taking necessary steps to make my dreams real.” In that moment, I realized that we needed each other, and I told her so. The need is not based on codependency, but on actual growth. We bring balance to each other. Granted, I think we would still grow as people, but the evolution would be a slower process. She is grace and progress, and my head bows to her life affirming nature.