A friend and I are talking about ‘the world’. About the seemingly unending natural disasters that are decimating entire countries, about the sorrow and pain, the unspeakable acts of terror, the horror and grief in the world today.
And I am reminded of days long ago.
And I am thoughtful of what I learned then and know now to be true always — the power of my choice.
It was the year of my thirteenth birthday that I remember consciously having to choose. It was a momentous year. New country. New school. First year of junior High. My first period. My first kiss. My first boyfriend. And, the first time I remember feeling fear of the world around me.
We had just moved to France. It was the time of the ‘Algerian Crisis’. A couple of years after Algeria had released itself from the reins of a foreign government that had held control of its lands and its destiny for over a 100 years.
I remember staring out the airplane window at the peaceful-looking fields below as we approached the runway to land. They surrounded the city of Metz like a beautiful quilt of greens and yellows burnished in the Autumn sun.
A man met us at the airport. He piled our luggage into his vehicle and we climbed into the back. As we drove into the city that was to be our new home, he and my father sat in the front seat talking about ‘the troubles’. I sat behind them listening.
The man who picked us up told my father about the unrest. About a bar on the corner of a street somewhere in ‘the Algerian quarter’ where a group of masked men had walked in the night before and shot machine guns into the crowd. Images of bullets ripping through flesh, of bodies falling and lives ending seared my mind.
I suddenly felt unsafe in the world around me and my heart was sick.
When we got to our hotel, I started to cry. I want to go home, I cried. I want to go back.
Back was to the land across the Atlantic. Back was to that place I’d lived for five years after the last time we’d returned from living on these foreign soils. It was the land of my birth. It was safe. In that place armed men didn’t indiscriminately shoot innocent bystanders dead.
I remember my mother telling me I couldn’t go back. My father saying, stop crying.
I had to make a choice. To choose to be present where I was with both fear and anticipation present.
I was excited about this new land, city, school. I was excited about the adventures that awaited.
And I was scared.
Would masked men appear on every street corner, blasting machine guns indiscriminately? Would I or those I loved be taken down by unidentified strangers seeking nothing other than to disrupt and destroy the world around them?
I had to make a choice.
I remember choosing to not let violence be my guide. I remember choosing to seek adventure, to find possibility for new friends, connections and opportunities.
I remember thinking I had no other choice.
I was not going to let fear consume me.
In recent months, drivers have torn through crowds killing innocents. Bombs have exploded tearing apart limbs and lives. Guns have blasted in war torn lands creating untold carnage and unspeakable acts of genocide have been committed against entire communities.
I cannot let fear consume me.
I cannot let what others have chosen as their path, change mine.
In every bomb and blast of gunfire is the reminder that life is fragile. Life is a gift. And while amongst us there are those for whom the gift of life is not as important as the fear that is sown into the hearts of many in their act of taking life away, I cannot let fear become my path.
A friend and I chatted about the state of the world and my heart felt heavy. My soul sick. I am reminded of those days long ago in France where I felt exposed. Those days when I first became aware that this earth upon which we walk, this planet whose air and waters and land we share with each other, holds both Love and hatred. Peace and fury. Harmony and hostility. Amity and war.
Just as long ago I felt grief for lost innocence sweep over me in the wave of fear that threatened to consume me, I must choose. Which side will I walk? Which path will I take?
And I am reminded. Choose harmony over hostility. Love over fear.
I am far away from those streets where bombs blew lives apart and still, I want to reach out and touch the people of those places and say, “I see you. I hear you. I feel with you the pain of what has happened.” I want to find just the right words and know, there are none that can make sense of terror.
In reverent silence, I surrender my fear and pray. In that sacred space I choose Love over fear and Peace invades my Heart.