I am Trayvon Martin, I am George Zimmerman

As fate would have it, I have been very busy lately, seemingly bombarded with duties, activities, images, ideas, and events from out there in the world. So much to process and so little time.

However, of some importance and some joy (to me at least) I will be joining some fellow Patheos folks in fasting (for at least one day, hopefully several) along with Muslim friends for Ramadan, which is happening now through August 7th. In just my preliminary research into this I have already learned a great deal about Islam and this holiday and I look forward to the the weeks ahead (click here for an amazing array of links to stories on Ramadan).

Given the recent violence between Buddhists and Muslims in India and Myanmar (Burma) – as well as that which has been ongoing in other parts of South and Southeast Asia, I hope this period will provide an opportunity to converse with my Muslim friends about what is happening there and how we might understand and work to end the violence.

Regarding this violence, some of which has been labeled as terror or terrorism, I thought of an old “Dharma friend” Thich Nhat Hanh. In response to the 9/11 attacks on the US and the American military response, he wrote:

Thich Nhat HanhTerror is in the human heart. We must remove this terror from the heart. Destroying the human heart, both physically and psychologically, is what we must absolutely avoid. The root of terrorism should be identified, so that it can be removed. The root of terrorism is misunderstanding, intolerance, hatred, revenge and hopelessness. This root cannot be located by the military. Bombs and missiles cannot reach it, let alone destroy it. Only with the practice of looking deeply can our insight reveal and identify this root. Only with the practice of deep listening and compassion can it be transformed and removed.

(read the full article here)

As I wrote immediately after the Bodh Gaya bombings:

Let us not talk of ourselves as victims or them as murderers, but rather let us see our common, very flawed, humanity and ask:

how can we make it better? 

Deep listening and compassion are not just actions – they are processes. They are things we try at and sometimes fail, and try again. The only total failure comes when we give up, when we decide we’re better than everyone else, or that they’ll never understand us or we will never understand them.

This is all too easy a place to reach, isn’t it? I sometimes feel this way with my closest friends, my girlfriend, and my family. 

It’s true that in some ways nobody will ever know what it’s like to be me or you. I will never be you or understand you fully; I will never be or understand  Trayvon Martin or George Zimmerman in any total way. But I will still keep trying. And in those little sparks of recognition there comes relief and joy. I experience this everyday with both family and friends as well as new friends and acquaintances from all over the world. Connecting – while it may be difficult at first, especially for introverts like me – brings genuine joy to life.

H.H. the Dalai Lama once said, “Kindness is society.” His translator was confused, thinking he meant to say something  like “kindness is important to society” or “kindness is vital to society.” But no. The Dalai Lama meant simply that: “kindness IS society; society IS kindness. Without concern for other people it’s impossible to have society.” (via Tricycle)

Kindness and “society” demand that we stop and consider one another as simply human beings. Despite everything else. Despite my color or your gender or my mental illness or your physical disability or my orientation or your nationality and on and on and on… We all have a unique past, a story that makes us special and in our own way beyond the understanding of everyone else. But we also all have the capacity to see one another in this way: as human beings, equally possessing dignity, worthy of respect.

It is in this way that I am Trayvon Martin, I am George Zimmerman.

I wish that I (Trayvon) was still alive. That night… out for a snack, so carefree one moment and… someone is following me, someone creepy… a confrontation… fear… “help!” and then…

I wish that I (George) was not so fearful, at first of “them” – the kids who seemed to get away with so much crime in my neighborhood, and then with him, the one I thought I might catch and bring to justice but… fear, a fight, my gun…

And now, how afraid am I? Free and alive. But… Every dark street. Every hoodie. Every black face, looking me in the eye… fear…

If this doesn’t help – and I understand if it doesn’t – I offer this from the great teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. But first I ask everyone: black, white, Asian, European, Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, liberal or conservative, please consider the following words deeply in how they relate to you, to those who might be aggressors toward you, to those who you might be aggressors toward…

In Plum Village, where I live in France, we receive many letters from the refugee camps in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines, hundreds each week. It is very painful to read them, but we have to do it, we have to be in contact. We try our best to help, but the suffering is enormous, and sometimes we are discouraged. It is said that half the boat people die in the ocean. Only half arrive at the shores in Southeast Asia, and even then they may not be safe.

There are many young girls, boat people, who are raped by sea pirates. Even though the United Nations and many countries try to help the government of Thailand prevent that kind of piracy, sea pirates continue to inflict much suffering on the refugees. One day we received a letter telling us about a young girl on a small boat who was raped by a Thai pirate. She was only twelve, and she jumped into the ocean and drowned herself.

When you first learn of something like that, you get angry at the pirate. You naturally take the side of the girl. As you look more deeply you will see it differently. If you take the side of the little girl, then it is easy. You only have to take a gun and shoot the pirate. But we cannot do that. In my meditation I saw that if I had been born in the village of the pirate and raised in the same conditions as he was, there is a great likelihood that I would become a pirate. I saw that many babies are born along the Gulf of Siam, hundreds every day, and if we educators, social workers, politicians, and others do not do something about the situation, in twenty-five years a number of them will become sea pirates. That is certain. If you or I were born today in those fishing villages, we may become sea pirates in twenty-five years. If you take a gun and shoot the pirate, all of us are to some extent responsible for this state of affairs.

After a long meditation, I wrote this poem. In it, there are three people: the twelve-year-old girl, the pirate, and me. Can we look at each other and recognize ourselves in each other? The tide of the poem is “Please Call Me by My True Names,” because I have so many names. When I hear one of the of these names, I have to say, “Yes.”

Call Me by My True Names

Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.

Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to
Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea
pirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and
loving.

I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my
hands,
and I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood” to, my
people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all
walks of life.
My pain if like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.

From: Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hanh

  • Matt Goodwyn

    I needed this , thanks

    • justinwhitaker

      Glad to hear it, Matt. -Cheers.

  • Colton Lindelof

    I think this is relevant.

    The Egg
    By: Andy Weir
    You were on your way home when you died.
    It was a car accident. Nothing particularly remarkable, but fatal nonetheless. You left behind a wife and two children. It was a painless death. The EMTs tried their best to save you, but to no avail. Your body was so utterly shattered you were better off, trust me.
    And that’s when you met me.
    “What… what happened?” You asked. “Where am I?”
    “You died,” I said, matter-of-factly. No point in mincing words.
    “There was a… a truck and it was skidding…”
    “Yup,” I said.
    “I… I died?”
    “Yup. But don’t feel bad about it. Everyone dies,” I said.
    You looked around. There was nothingness. Just you and me. “What is this place?” You asked. “Is this the afterlife?”
    “More or less,” I said.
    “Are you god?” You asked.
    “Yup,” I replied. “I’m God.”
    “My kids… my wife,” you said.
    “What about them?”
    “Will they be all right?”
    “That’s what I like to see,” I said. “You just died and your main concern is for your family. That’s good stuff right there.”
    You looked at me with fascination. To you, I didn’t look like God. I just looked like some man. Or possibly a woman. Some vague authority figure, maybe. More of a grammar school teacher than the almighty.
    “Don’t worry,” I said. “They’ll be fine. Your kids will remember you as perfect in every way. They didn’t have time to grow contempt for you. Your wife will cry on the outside, but will be secretly relieved. To be fair, your marriage was falling apart. If it’s any consolation, she’ll feel very guilty for feeling relieved.”
    “Oh,” you said. “So what happens now? Do I go to heaven or hell or something?”
    “Neither,” I said. “You’ll be reincarnated.”
    “Ah,” you said. “So the Hindus were right,”
    “All religions are right in their own way,” I said. “Walk with me.”
    You followed along as we strode through the void. “Where are we going?”
    “Nowhere in particular,” I said. “It’s just nice to walk while we talk.”
    “So what’s the point, then?” You asked. “When I get reborn, I’ll just be a blank slate, right? A baby. So all my experiences and everything I did in this life won’t matter.”
    “Not so!” I said. “You have within you all the knowledge and experiences of all your past lives. You just don’t remember them right now.”
    I stopped walking and took you by the shoulders. “Your soul is more magnificent, beautiful, and gigantic than you can possibly imagine. A human mind can only contain a tiny fraction of what you are. It’s like sticking your finger in a glass of water to see if it’s hot or cold. You put a tiny part of yourself into the vessel, and when you bring it back out, you’ve gained all the experiences it had.
    “You’ve been in a human for the last 48 years, so you haven’t stretched out yet and felt the rest of your immense consciousness. If we hung out here for long enough, you’d start remembering everything. But there’s no point to doing that between each life.”
    “How many times have I been reincarnated, then?”
    “Oh lots. Lots and lots. An in to lots of different lives.” I said. “This time around, you’ll be a Chinese peasant girl in 540 AD.”
    “Wait, what?” You stammered. “You’re sending me back in time?”
    “Well, I guess technically. Time, as you know it, only exists in your universe. Things are different where I come from.”
    “Where you come from?” You said.
    “Oh sure,” I explained “I come from somewhere. Somewhere else. And there are others like me. I know you’ll want to know what it’s like there, but honestly you wouldn’t understand.”
    “Oh,” you said, a little let down. “But wait. If I get reincarnated to other places in time, I could have interacted with myself at some point.”
    “Sure. Happens all the time. And with both lives only aware of their own lifespan you don’t even know it’s happening.”
    “So what’s the point of it all?”
    “Seriously?” I asked. “Seriously? You’re asking me for the meaning of life? Isn’t that a little stereotypical?”
    “Well it’s a reasonable question,” you persisted.
    I looked you in the eye. “The meaning of life, the reason I made this whole universe, is for you to mature.”
    “You mean mankind? You want us to mature?”
    “No, just you. I made this whole universe for you. With each new life you grow and mature and become a larger and greater intellect.”
    “Just me? What about everyone else?”
    “There is no one else,” I said. “In this universe, there’s just you and me.”
    You stared blankly at me. “But all the people on earth…”
    “All you. Different incarnations of you.”
    “Wait. I’m everyone!?”
    “Now you’re getting it,” I said, with a congratulatory slap on the back.
    “I’m every human being who ever lived?”
    “Or who will ever live, yes.”
    “I’m Abraham Lincoln?”
    “And you’re John Wilkes Booth, too,” I added.
    “I’m Hitler?” You said, appalled.
    “And you’re the millions he killed.”
    “I’m Jesus?”
    “And you’re everyone who followed him.”
    You fell silent.
    “Every time you victimized someone,” I said, “you were victimizing yourself. Every act of kindness you’ve done, you’ve done to yourself. Every happy and sad moment ever experienced by any human was, or will be, experienced by you.”
    You thought for a long time.
    “Why?” You asked me. “Why do all this?”
    “Because someday, you will become like me. Because that’s what you are. You’re one of my kind. You’re my child.”
    “Whoa,” you said, incredulous. “You mean I’m a god?”
    “No. Not yet. You’re a fetus. You’re still growing. Once you’ve lived every human life throughout all time, you will have grown enough to be born.”
    “So the whole universe,” you said, “it’s just…”
    “An egg.” I answered. “Now it’s time for you to move on to your next life.”
    And I sent you on your way.

    • justinwhitaker

      That is really lovely – thanks for sharing, Colton.


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