July 6, Baton Rouge, LA

While I was up late at night writing my last post, only a few blocks down our house something terrible was taking place. A man standing outside a convenience store was shot to death by a member of the police force. Someone caught it on video, and today it was on the national news. The two police men involved were put on administrative leave today, and the case has been handed over to the Justice Department who are carrying out an investigation. 

Scrolling down my Facebook newsfeed this morning, I felt an immense wave of desperation washing over me. The suicide bombings of the past few days, the continuing war in the Middle East, the refugees, the state of the environment, BREXIT, the U.S. elections...and a whole lot of hatred and division everywhere in the comments sections, media outlets and particularly palpable today in our town of Baton Rouge. Has the world gone mad, or was it always this crazy? 

All I know is what I saw on the video and what is being reported by the media. I do not understand what happened. I really can't say what was in any of those three people's hearts or minds. I cannot judge them. I really can't bring myself to, nor do I want to. It's not my job. I have been reading other people's opinions all day. They sting, they hurt, they offer no solace, no understanding, no healing. All they do is fill up a bleeding space, that could be filled with our hearts instead. All I know is how I feel. 

I feel incredibly, interminably sad.

Today I found myself heeding my own advice. I took my tomato meditation from last night and tried to apply it to the man who was shot, to the police officers, to the community, to the whole city. I realized how much I do not understand.

I  feel the anger, I feel the pain. I feel the complexity of the problem Baton Rouge and the U.S. as a whole are facing. It is multifaceted and historical. It is layered and branches out like a tree into all areas of society: judicial system, family structure, education, economy, housing market, banking system, police culture etc etc etc...so many of us are involved in the above social systems and structures yet when it comes to incidents like this we want to boil it down to a simple matter of 'this or that', 'us and them', 'a cop and a black guy'. We externalize our own fears, traumas and failures to two or three players "in the game". Remember "the tomato is the sun, and the soil, and the rain...?". Now look: the policemen and the man were their motivations, and their childhoods, and their parents, and their schools, and their teachers, and their neighborhoods, and their pastor and their church and the this and the other, and you...and me. 

I hit on a wall of sadness, pain and guilt. Why?

I left one divided city, where I grew up and had a home, and came to another to set up a new one. Different place, different people, different circumstances, but at root the causes of division are the same: fear, alienation, isolation, fanaticism, hatred. I am haunted and chased by the divisions in the landscape, I am haunted and chased by the divisions in myself. 

I grew up on the Green Line in Lefkosia. Its barbed wire sliced my neighborhood in half. Riding my bike to the end of the road I imagined what life was like on the other side. From my window I saw a mountain I was not allowed to touch or climb. I saw houses inhabited by people I was not allowed to meet. I lay awake at night thinking about my grandmother's stories of the summers in Lapithos, the lemon trees, the sea, the open fields. I dreamt of being an ant that crawled under the wires, past the soldiers and around the landmines to solve the great mystery of that mysterious place that lay beyond. I pictured fairies and secret forests up in the mountains and castles with princes. I pictured fruits on the trees all year round and golden wheat as tall as myself for miles and miles around. 

Later, at school, my imagination was chocked up in clouds of stories of brutal killings, rapes, and occupying armies that descended from the depths of Anatolia with their scimitars and turbans, ugly monsters with huge teeth and stomachs who wanted to devour everything in greed and gluttony. I quickly grew scared of what lay beyond the 'dead zone'. I rallied my teddy bears for evacuation drills and bomb drills under the bed, like we did at school. I anguished over which of my belongings I would take with me should a war break out, and fretted over my old and frail grandmother making it out in time. 

At the time, somewhere inside of me a line was drawn, and fear burrowed like landmines deep in the fertile soil of my psyche, waiting, waiting, waiting for the time in the future when someone would set a foot and blow up to pieces.  

Luckily my parents were rational people, and peace-loving people, and they worked in themselves and in their community to pick apart the lies from the truth and the hatred from the suffering. They were compassionate. They did not see religions or ethnicity or skin-colour as a basis of judging people. They taught us to be fair, to treat people with respect, to introspect, to be students of history, seekers of truth. 

Luckily where those seeds of fear were planted, they never took root. While school and the media were busy wiring our brains up for intransigence, my parents took time to carefully detonate the explosives and set our minds free.

When later the checkpoints opened, my mother and I were among those who rushed to stand in line to cross, because I was neither afraid nor angry. When later my high school welcomed Turkish Cypriot students, I was happy for our country, because that was progress. People always belong together and are stronger together. I see it now. It's how we were made to be. 

I work now in my own self to expose the dark, poisonous, uncompromising places still inhabiting my soul, to get rid of my judgments for myself and others, to become freer and freer still, to hopefully cast a light on the world instead of a shadow. I admit, while old friends are working on the front lines and bringing change to the world, and peace to our country, I have ran away to a corner to meditate on my life. It is not enough, but it is the least I can do. It is the least we can all do, so that we may emerge stronger and kinder, and more loving, to do our part better and more effectively for our loved-ones, our communities, the world. 

Though we may feel powerless to change the situation right now, in Cyprus, in the U.S, in the Middle East, in the World, we can try and understand it better, by looking inside ourselves. Then maybe our anger and hatred will turn into compassion, as Thich Nhat Hanh says, and we will not want to fight with each other, or kill each other anymore. It is a long and difficult road, but it is the only one. 


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